Israel’s president launches global initiative to promote Jewish unity
In the run-up to Israel’s 75th Yom Ha’atzmaut this week, Israeli President Isaac Herzog announced the establishment of consultations among world Jewry to precede the launch of a global Jewish advisory council under his office.
“The fact is that between our Jewish communities, and between them and the state of Israel, we’re growing at times more distant from one another. The gaps between us are growing wider,” said Herzog on Sunday, 23 April, at a joint session of the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organisation, and Keren Hayesod in honour of Yom Ha’atzmaut.
“On some of the most essential questions, we’re unable to agree. But, more concerning, often, we’re unable even to discuss [them].
“That critical web of connectedness – the sense of shared purpose and destiny that has sustained our people for millennia – seems to be loosening,” the president said. “I’m convinced that there’s no greater existential threat to our people than the one that comes from within: our own polarisation and alienation from one another.
“What we need is a global Jewish beit midrash. I have committed myself to making this happen,” he said. Herzog’s vision was to have a “first-of-its-kind global council for Jewish dialogue”, which is the aim that will follow what he called Kol Ha’am – Voice of the People: The President’s Initiative for Worldwide Jewish Dialogue.
“It will be a place where we can engage in serious, sensitive, and strategic discussions on the most complex and pressing issues facing our people,” Herzog said. “It will be a place where we formulate concrete proposals and put into action items to address them. But, most importantly, it will be a place to cultivate the next generation of Jewish leaders. I consider this to be its most important function.”
Herzog wants the initiative to foster dialogue between Jewish communities around the world and to advise him on the core challenges facing them. He wants to build Jewish leadership which can make its voice heard in honest and strategic discussion about sensitive and vital issues, according to his office. To this end, he has brought on board the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organisation as key partners.
The Voice of the People will then lead to the establishment of a forum under the auspices of the office of the president of Israel. Made up of members representing global Jewry selected by the president, the advisory council will advise the president on core challenges, including growing rifts between Jewish communities around the world. It will then be tasked with taking action to advance collaborative projects and foster future leadership across the Jewish world.
The president has invited global Jewish communities to a broad consultation process in 14 major Jewish centres, across six continents, to contribute to his vision of a global council for Jewish dialogue.
This series of what he called “strategic labs” will be facilitated by international consulting firm Deloitte, with the support of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organisation, over June and early July. Johannesburg will be the location for the Jews of Africa. The other locations include Israel, North America (New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Toronto), South America (Buenos Aires, São Paolo), Europe (London, Paris, Budapest), and Australia (Melbourne). There will also be virtual labs in English and Hebrew.
Though he’s excited about this new direction, Herzog said Israel had a lot to celebrate on its 75th birthday. “Hanging in the balance between life and death in the War of Independence in 1948, we survived. On the ashes of the greatest tragedy in our people’s history, the Shoah, we rose up again with the unbeatable spirit that defines our people.”
Over 75 years, Israel “cultivated a thriving centre of Jewish and Israeli life that is creative, warm, bold, and innovative”, he said.
“We have woven a rich and beautiful human tapestry. We have built an army – a people’s army – which brings people together from every walk of life to protect our nation. Among them are hundreds of lone soldiers, who choose to hear the calling from around the world and come to Israel without their families to defend our nation.
“We have blossomed across so many fields. And we have harnessed our creative power and entrepreneurial spirit to be a force of good in the world, bringing ourselves to the frontline of solutions to the most pressing needs of our times. The Jewish people throughout the globe, our Jewish diaspora, has contributed immensely to this nation-building project that is Israel. And it has been nourishing for both sides.”
However, “We can also acknowledge that there are some concerning trends in our peoplehood. We recognise them, not to lament our fate or be critical, blaming, or despairing, but as a first measure in responding to them.”
He said he believed the growing gaps between diaspora communities and Israel could be successfully worked out in the best way Jewish people know how – through discussion. “Our Jewish culture is one that celebrates the living vitality of discourse, of contact between different people and different positions, even, and especially, when they don’t agree. It’s one that recognises that, in order to grow, we need to be able to bring a genuine receptiveness to listening and learning and really hearing each other,” the president said.
“What’s at stake in our lives is more than the fate of one generation. In this moment, we, the living, are Israel. For the sake of everything we have achieved and everything we aspire to achieve, let’s commit to working together, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, to shape our shared future. And write the next chapter in the story of our people.”