During the three days of the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America 2013 in Jerusalem last week, I was privileged to dialogue and debate alongside the veteran and up-and-coming leaders of the Jewish world. Jews from North America and Israel, from all backgrounds, came together to consider the issues facing the global Jewish community today and tomorrow. Many were concerned by the recent Pew Report, which indicated that while 94% of USA Jews are proud to be Jewish, strikingly large numbers are drifting away from the Jewish people.
The issue of Jews being a “people” is something very dear to my heart. A Jew has many identities. I myself am a young woman that grew up in a Conservative American Ashkenazi Jewish home, reconnected to my Jewish roots on Birthright, eventually made aliyah, married a mesorati Sephardi Israeli and am now a living milieu of Jewish identities. I have been disengaged and reengaged with the Jewish world time and again as I grappled with my Jewish identity and my belonging to the Jewish people, which is today at the foundation of my sense of self and my passions.
My hero, Israel's President Shimon Peres, spoke at the GA and emphasized that the future of the Jewish people cannot just be about having pride in being Jewish – but finding purpose in being Jewish. I could not agree more. He excitedly exclaimed that “Judaism is a moral vision!” That in many ways Moses expressed the first declarations of democracy (“Every person was created in the image of G-d.” “Love your fellow man as yourself.”), the legacy and heritage for which the Jewish people is responsible.
Many people cannot fathom that after all the tragedies of the Jewish people, we are still here. What keeps us coming back to our Jewish roots? Time and again destruction came our way, and we had the courage to survive. The courage to fight for our purpose. A purpose driven by what was once seen by the world as a radical vision of ethics and morality.
I came back from Birthright years ago with a spark from the Jewish people’s homeland. My aliyah succeeded after standing on the balcony at the exit to Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History Museum with a view of Jewish homes lining the Jerusalem Hills knowing that if Holocaust survivors could come to this land and still find the courage to keep our purpose thriving, so could I. Today I try my utmost to contribute to my people’s purpose not only by building a Jewish home based on the ethics, morals and traditions of our founding visionaries but also by being a young Jewish professional working at Yad Vashem. By supporting Yad Vashem’s goals as an educational catalyst promoting humanitarian values and tolerance, and inspiring further study, understanding and teaching of the Holocaust – an important part of our people’s past that has and continues to help inform many aspects of our very bright today and tomorrow. Without knowing where we come from, we cannot know where we are going.
Yad Vashem remains an impactful aspect of not only Birthright trips, but trips for Jews of all ages visiting Israel. It is relevant and engaging. It flames the spark. It is a vital place of intergenerational and international encounter devoted to preserving the memory of the past and imparting its meaning to future generations. Yad Vashem has the shared goal with the Federations of Jewish continuity, which was one of the major focuses of the GA 2013 here in Jerusalem. As President Shimon Peres declared at the GA, “The future belongs to us, don’t give up, never.” And for my part, I know I never will.