The General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) convened this year in Jerusalem. As part of the proceedings last week, JFNA Chairman Richard V. Sandler interviewed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The interview covered a lot of ground, some of which, as we know at the moment, is a bit shaky between large swaths of North American Jews and the government of Israel. The prime minister wished to project the attitude that all problems between the largest Diaspora community and the Jewish state were resolvable. There was one key issue, however, that Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized as being pre-eminent among his concerns for the future.
“What I’m concerned with when it comes to the Jewish people, is the loss of identity”, the prime minister said. “It’s not the question of the Western Wall or the question of conversion; we’ll overcome that. It’s the loss of identity.”
In responding to his interviewer, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the following:
“Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch wrote recently: “Those who are not concerned with Jewish survival will not survive as Jews.” There’s some basic truth to that.
“Jewish survival is guaranteed in the Jewish state if we defend our state, but we have to also work at the continuity of Jewish communities in the world by developing Jewish education, the study of Hebrew, having the contact of young Jews coming to Israel.
“We need an approach in the internet age to young Jewish men and women, to Jewish children around the world, so that they understand that their own future as Jews depends on continuous identity.
“It’s protecting Jewish identity and developing Jewish consciousness that is the most important thing. It transcends politics; it touches on the foundations of history. So I hope that we do this.
“This is what I think we’re here for. We are one people – let’s make sure that every Jewish child in the world knows how proud they should be to be Jews.”
In placing Jewish identity – i.e., Jewish education – as the core issue of the Jewish future, Prime Minister was echoing many other leading Jewish figures in Israel. The true strength of the Jewish people is in our embrace of who we are. Passing that embrace forward to the next generations can be achieved only through education.
But Jewish education must be available to as many Jewish children as possible. For that to happen, the education must be affordable. That is and has been GAJE’s message.