January 7, 2007 / 17 Tevet 5767
By Dov Lautman
World Jewry has been the State of Israel's partner in every sense of the word. From pre-State Israel through this summer's war in Lebanon, the political, financial and moral support of the global Jewish communities is unrivaled when compared to other compatriot communities and their homeland. Even as I write these words, world Jewry is raising some $350 million dollars in addition to its annual campaign to help us in the post-war effort.
But true partnership is not a relationship of one-way giving and receiving even when it serves the interests of both sides. For many years, Israel was the traditional receiver. Indeed, we had critical needs that required world Jewry's support and we will forever be grateful. For overseas communities, a "message" of an Israel-in-need was well received, and enabled them to raise unprecedented sums for their beleaguered brethren in the Middle East and likewise enabled them to financially sustain their own communities.
Today, the Jewish world is facing an increasingly complex reality. Yes, Israel still has very real socio-economic needs, but they pale in comparison to our early years. The greatest challenge we face as a Jewish people are the alarming demographic trends in worldwide Jewish communities. The only Jewish community in the world that is growing as a result of natural birthrate is Israel. As for the North American Jewish community, two statistics from the last North American Jewish Population Survey succinctly reflect its state: Close to 45 percent of Jews intermarry and 75 percent of the children of these marriages are not being raised as Jews. The sum total of the exponential math spells out disaster for the Jewish communities themselves and the Jewish people as a whole. For Israel, this means that our strategic support base is under serious threat in generations to come.
There is no simple or singular solution to reverse these trends. But clearly, Israel has a much larger and active role to play in helping strengthen the Jewish people. However, we will only be able to do so if we create a paradigm change in Israel's relationship with its partners. If Israel remains the poor cousin abroad, it will only serve to weaken our connection with overseas communities as the younger generations will continue to lose interest, and the communities will continue to lose their younger generations. A vicious cycle indeed.
It is our collective responsibility to create real partnerships between Israel and overseas communities - partnerships designed to strengthen one another and the Jewish people as a whole. We need partnerships which bring together Israelis and Diaspora Jewry on an equal footing based on common agendas. Israel cannot be an anonymous entity: It must have a real face and name. The more Diaspora Jews we can get personally engaged with Israel, the greater the chance we have to help them strengthen their own communities, and in doing so strengthen the Jewish people as a whole.
This paradigm change has taken place in a limited way through the Jewish Agency's "Partnership 2000" program. For more than a decade, the Jewish Agency linked some 45 cities or regions in Israel with some 550 Jewish communities abroad. Tens of thousands of Diaspora youth, educators, doctors and other professionals have engaged with Israelis in programs of mutual learning and exploration. For participating communities abroad, cities from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat became "theirs." They visited their schools, met their children, engaged with their professionals and civic leaderships, and saw up-close their strengths and weaknesses. The same applies to the thousands of Israelis who traveled abroad and saw the Jewish communities' strength and even wealth, but who were stricken by the immense problems threatening their future. As former chairman of Partnership 2000, I was witness to the fact that no participant returned to his or her home community unaffected - they all returned with an immense understanding of their mutual responsibility.
We have seen similar success with programs such as "birthright" and the Jewish Agency's "MASA" program, both of which are dedicated to bringing young adults to Israel for a significant experience and to interact with their Israeli peers. The graduates of such programs are the Jewish communities' future leaders, donors and will undoubtedly make up Israel's future support base.
The strength of partnership is that is based on mutual respect, mutual interest and a common agenda. One of the strengths of Israel within the framework of partnership is that it is a uniting denominator for the affiliated and unaffiliated. We must expand upon the success of Partnership 2000 and other programs to deepen this paradigm change. I call upon the government of Israel, the Jewish Agency, and every citizen of the Jewish nation to help us create as many platforms for partnership as possible. Every Jew and Israeli we connect in partnership helps guarantee the connection and responsibility to their community, the State of Israel and the Jewish nation. This is the cycle that we want to create and not be broken.
Dov Lautman is founder and chairman of the board of Delta Galil Industries Ltd and a member of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.