November 23, 2006 / 2 Kislev 5767
Last week, the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities (GA) was held in Los Angeles. This year’s conference focused on identifying with the State of Israel and its citizens after the War in Lebanon.
It was a unique opportunity for the thousands of delegates, representing the Jewish communities and federations of North America, as well as organizations and institutions, to meet with Israel Cabinet Ministers and to learn first-hand about Israel’s current needs.
For us, the representatives of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the GA was an important opportunity to conduct unprecedented meetings with many of our partners in the Jewish communities of North America. In the framework of our talks, we brought them up to date on the activities we initiated during the war and in its aftermath. We also informed them of our current projects under the auspices of our "Day After" program, in which we are continuing to assist, alongside the Israeli government, in rehabilitating and rebuilding the North and the Western Negev region – an area which still is the target of continuous Kassam rocket attacks.
It is at these times that Israel’s needs raise the question of priority to every Jew in the world, including federations, communities, organizations, delegates, donors, and decision makers.
These are trying times for each and every one of us. These are times when we, Jews living both in Israel and in the Jewish communities, must unite together around our shared commitment to the State of Israel and focus on the special needs, particularly those of the Galilee and Negev regions. We must stand in solidarity with the residents of these regions, who continue to struggle to return to their daily routines.
We must be diligent in this effort and remain steadfast in the belief that Israel’s needs are of top priority at this time. We must do everything in our power to find the necessary resources to invest in developing education and academia as a way of facilitating economic prosperity and improving the standards of living. Resources must also be used to develop communal infrastructure and assist underserved populations. These efforts are the key to strengthening the Galilee and Negev, so that they may attract new residents who will choose to build their lives in these communities. This is our primary objective and the critical catalyst for the growth, expansion, and future of these areas in Israel.
As one who took part in the GA and met many of the dedicated leaders and donors committed to the Jewish People and Israel, I can assure you that the resources exist: be it those to assist in rehabilitating and developing the North and Western Negev, or the means to continue, despite it all, the investment in Jewish education and strengthening the connection to Israel amongst the younger generation of the Jewish communities of the world. This is an important mission and significant challenge on the agenda of the Jewish Agency, and we must not forget it, as we concentrate our energies in raising funds for the State of Israel. It is through the enrichment of Jewish education and the connection to Israel that we will be successful in creating a strong future in the Jewish communities, and further, encourage the growth of young leadership characterized by strong roots in Jewish heritage and culture, committed to Judaism and Israel as the center of the Jewish people.
I am pleased and proud of the positive responses the Jewish Agency received, along with the employees of the federations, communities, and organizations, regarding our cooperative efforts during and after the war. I am also confident that the wonderful partnership that we orchestrated with our many friends in the Jewish communities and in Israel will allow us to continue to prove our capabilities, excel in the mission we have accepted upon ourselves, make a meaningful contribution to Aliyah, enrich Jewish education, and the connection to Israel felt by Diaspora youth, close educational gaps in the Galilee and Negev regions, and finally be an influential figure in shaping Israeli society.
Just prior to the GA, the Shlichim conference was held in New York. All Jewish Agency shlichim who are currently serving in North America participated, including individuals engaging in a year of communal service before their draft into the Israeli army. For them, this was their first conference.
It was a special experience for me to meet the shlichim and witness their exceptional professionalism and wonderful character as well as the strength of their commitment to our collective mission.
Yashar Koach to the shlichim and warm wishes to the pre-military shlichim who bring with them the young and dynamic spirit of the State of Israel to the Jewish communities within which they are active. We at the Jewish Agency are fortunate to have these individuals as our employees, representatives, and delegates.
In conclusion, I would like to share with you my experience at the festivities held at the Knesset on Monday, November 20, 2006, in celebration of the end of Natan Sharansky’s career as a member of the Israeli Cabinet. For all of us, it was an emotional event during which Natan shared the story of his struggle as a refusnik in the Soviet Union. As the Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, I was filled with a sense of pride as we remembered the activism undertaken by Jewish people on behalf of one of the most important Aliyah struggles in the history of Israel. It was this struggle that ultimately opened the gates of the Soviet Union and the Aliyah of over one million immigrants to Israel, whose consequent contribution to Israeli society and State has been immeasurable. I am sure that you all join me in wishing Natan Sharansky the best of luck in his new path. Speaking as one who knows him, I am confident that many challenges and achievements await him in the future.