On May 14, 1948 at the Tel Aviv Art Museum, David Ben Gurion declared Israel a Jewish homeland for all Jews, imploring Jews of the diaspora to support the immigration and up-building of the state.
For 69 years, Israel has welcomed both refugees and immigrants from around the world. We in the diaspora have shared in the collective responsibility of this ingathering and the remarkable building of the nation.
I just returned from Israel with a group of Jewish Federation executives, delving into the complexities and significance of Israel since Ben Gurion’s declaration fulfilled the Zionist dream.
As a child, I learned that Israel was the spiritual center of the Jewish people. We needed Israel and Israel needed us. My mother and her friends volunteered for Hadassah, as did my grandmother even before the state’s creation.
I had Israeli teachers, hosted teens from our Project Renewal community and traveled to Israel for the first time with BBYO.
The Israel I connect with today still generates pride and ahavat Israel. This recent visit only renewed my commitment to the leadership role of our Federation; it must engage our community with Israel.
Generations of North American Jews shared in the massive ingathering of exiles and building the state that Ben Gurion envisioned. It is the Jewish Federation’s role today to ensure every Jew in Louisville has an opportunity to connect with Israel and Israelis, to delve into Israeli life today and understand the significance of the country’s past and future.
The priorities of our Federation must include providing resources, educating and advocating for Israel. Annual campaign dollars make this happen.
We should celebrate Israel’s success in technology, business, environmental protection, medicine and the arts. She has accomplished so much.
But Israel also has a real problem with poverty. One in three children in Israel lives under the poverty line. Funds contributed by North American donors help the most vulnerable there along with the support to the JDC caring for oppressed Jews in over 70 other countries.
We also know political decisions are made in Israel – on security, settlements, religious equality – that resonate with some and isolate others. None of us should disengage, though, and I am pleased to report that our recent community forum on religious equality was highlighted during one of the trip’s sessions.
Our Federation encourages respectful, meaningful dialogue in our community. Israel was created for the Jewish people. As American Jews, it is our responsibility to continuously build our relationship with her.
Israelis are making choices every day that inspire me. For example, Yad by Yad, a public school in Jerusalem open to Arabs and Jews, which we visited, has become a beacon of hope. These families are ensuring that their children will grow up knowing and understanding each other.
Let us help you connect to Israel through our community programs and through partnership2gether with the Western Galile or taking a trip to Israel!
There is still much to do to fulfill Ben Gurion’s dream. With your help, we can make it come true.
(Sara Klein Wagner is president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.)