Re: What is the biggest challenge facing the Jewish people?
Sallai Meridor is the Ambassador of Israel to the U.S.. He served as the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization from 1999-2005. Prior to this, Mr. Meridor served as the Treasurer of the Jewish Agency and WZO and as the Head of the Settlement Division of the WZO. During the years of his chairmanship, the Jewish Agency underwent a major transformation. The strategy and activities of the Agency were focused on dealing with the Jewish future - the young generation of Jews. Major initiatives included the Masa national effort to bring 20,000 young adults per annum from the Diaspora for a year-long formative experience in Israel, focusing the activities of the Agency in Israel on young Israelis and young Olim, special Aliyah efforts from FSU, Ethiopia, Argentina, and France, and strategic preparations for dealing with the future challenge of Aliyah choice. In response to the war of terror against Israel, a global Jewish mobilization effort and a major emergency campaign was launched. Internally, the budget of the Jewish agency was balanced, agreements to eliminate $700M in debt (which put the agency at risk) were reached, and the Agency took a historic step by restructuring its governing bodies to include significant nonpolitical representation from Israeli society. Finally, with a view towards the Jewish future, the first ever Jewish People Policy Planning Institute was established.
Prior to his work with the Jewish agency, Mr. Meridor served as an advisor to the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel. In his governmental service, he was involved in the designing of Israel's foreign and defense policies, played a role in the peace process leading to the Madrid Peace Conference, participated in the negotiations that followed as the representative of the Ministry of Defense, and led Israel's Inter-Agency Steering Committee on Arms Control. Born and educated in Jerusalem, Mr. Meridor earned his B.A. degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served as an Intelligence Officer in the IDF. He lives in Kfar Adumim with his wife No'a. They are the proud parents of three daughters.
Sallai Meridor: Well this is largely what drives me. I’m an Israeli born . . . generation of Jews that have been born after the creation of the state of Israel . . . the recreation of the state of Israel – the modern state of Israel, and only one generation after the Holocaust. So if there is one thing that is driving my generation, and hopefully will drive my children’s generation, is the commitment to ensure not only the existence, but the thriving of the Jewish people. So number one is to make sure that Israel is strong and continues to develop and grow. And I think that we are doing not a bad job in that. Take any measurement and see the accomplishments of Israel, I doubt . . . Maybe it’s not too modest for me to say, but I doubt that there are parallels – maybe not even precedented. But this does not come without effort. And this is achieved with much sweat and blood, unfortunately, and great spirit. And these all have to be maintained and developed and transferred from one generation to the next. Then we have, for the Jews who are leaving the Diaspora, a challenge of living in an era of choice, where to continue to be Jewish is not a matter of natural course of events. It is a choice that a person needs to make. I want to be Jewish. I want to feel proud about being Jewish. I feel that this is the best thing that ever happened to me that I belong to the Jewish people. So in my grandparents’ generation, obviously six, seven generations ago, this was not an issue. You were born Jewish. You die Jewish. Your children are raised Jewish. This is a major challenge in an era of choice to give your young people the tools to make an educated choice. And in our case, especially a nation that has lost a third of its members only 65 years ago in the Holocaust, every Jew counts. And we want to give every young Jew the opportunity of being able to make an educated choice. And the third, if I may – and this too is something that we need to invest in – is making sure that this connection and relationship and mutual care into Israel and the Jewish communities in the world continues to be as strong as it is today. And again, we are blessed with a sense almost in our genes of a mutual Jewish responsibility. But you should take nothing for granted – either Israel’s strength, nor the choice of our young Jews, nor the connections. We can take for granted nothing. But if we work on it, we have the best chance of succeeding.
Question: What advice do you have for young Jews?
Sallai Meridor: I think three things, maybe four. First belong. Because by yourself you’ll be able to achieve “X”. Together you’ll be able to achieve much more. Second is strengthen your community. Make sure that young people your age will feel like you and act like you want to act. Thirdly, connect to Israel as the center of the Jewish people and contribute in every way possible to the strength of Israel. And thirdly, live the Jewish value of making the world a better place, because we are not here as Jews – and I know this is the same for other religions, definitely Christians – we are not here only for ourselves. We don’t want to dominate anybody else; but we want to. . . s our responsibility not to make the world only a better place for ourselves, but to make the world a better place for all. And this tradition, this value, goes back to a previous question that you asked about America, and about Israel, and about the Jewish people. This is what keeps us so much together in such friendship and alliance. That we really share not only enemies, and not only interest; we share the deepest values and the most important heritage.
Meridor talks about the challenge of choice that modern Jews face, in which their connection to the Jewish faith and community is not assured. He says that each Jew must resolve for themselves the value of maintaining the spirit and identity of Judaism and must work diligently toward the continued existence of Israel as the Jewish homeland, which is by no means assured.
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