Over 120 distinguished Jewish leaders, from 50 countries and a corresponding group of more than one hundred young Israelis met in Israel this week as part of the World Jewish Congress’ Jewish Leadership Bridge. The initiative was brought together in collaboration with the Jewish Peoplehood Coalition powered by Reut to discuss issues of concern to world Jewry and formulate common actions to foster Jewish unity. The three-day program, with activities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, placed an emphasis on forging bonds between Israeli and Diaspora thought leaders through in-depth sessions.
A highlight for participants of the delegation – composed of members of the global organization’s Executive Committee, Jewish Diplomatic Corps, Lauder Fellowship, and other leading student organizations such as the European Union of Jewish Students, and World Union of Jewish Students as well as their Israeli counterparts from the Reut group – was a meeting with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog on Thursday morning.
Herzog warmly welcomed the group, declaring, “The Jewish people throughout the globe — our Jewish diaspora — have contributed immensely to this nation building project that is Israel.”
“To that end, these very days, I have launched the Voice of the People Initiative, the President's Initiative for Worldwide Jewish Dialogue, which I call in Hebrew ‘Kol Ha’am Siach Yehudi Olami,’” he explained in his keynote address to the group on Thursday morning which focused on finding points of commonality between Jewish communities.
“It is designed to be a platform where we can convene together as a people to hear each other, to plan together, to engage and to strategize on all of the major issues affecting our people. And I believe it holds great potential to mark a new stage in the evolution of the global Jewish conversation,” explained President Herzog.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder underscored the importance of the gathering in comments from New York. “Amid challenging times for the Jewish people worldwide, and in Israel, it is more important than ever that we recognize what unites us as a people. I thank President Herzog for his dedicated leadership in working to bridge divides between our communities so that we may be able to stand stronger together for years to come,” he said.
In addition to the meeting with Herzog was a visit to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for meetings with senior officials including Shuli Davidovich, the Head of the Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions who led an insightful session focused on global and regional issues of concern to world Jewry, revealing an enriching roadmap towards a shared future. The group also met with leaders of Israel’s civil society and business sectors.
Adding a vibrant cultural element to the program was The Bridge Benefit Concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Wednesday evening. The remarkable event, co-organized by the WJC and the Jewish National Fund-USA, brought together hundreds to witness performances by the world-renowned composer Gil Shohat accompanied by the talented Daniella Lugassy, Cabra Casay, and Shahar Edwi as well as special appearance by singer and song-writer Nicole Raviv and winners of WJC and JNF-USA’s Narrow Bridge Song Competition. The initiative displayed the power of music in unifying diverse communities and fostering cross-cultural understanding, a testament to the resilience and strength of the Jewish Diaspora.
The Jerusalem delegation followed WJC’s 2022-2023 Lauder Fellows convening in Brussels for the second annual Diplomacy Summit. This transformative summit saw 22 Lauder Fellows from 12 countries engage with influential figures from the European Parliament, the European Commission, and NATO. This European endeavor served as a powerful precursor to the historic mission in Israel, reinforcing the global reach and impact of the World Jewish Congress.
A panel of Israeli leaders from the worlds of finance, information technology and sports, discussing their collaboration with diaspora Jewry and engagement with the Tikkun Olam concept through their daily work.
Opening Remarks by Mr. Eli Groner, Managing Director, Koch Disruptive Technologies in Israel & Former Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Panelists: Ms. Keren Hajioff, Former International Spokeswoman to Israeli Prime Ministers & Former Head, IDF Social Media Office; Mr. Ari Steinberg, Chair, Israel Basketball Administration; Ms. Justine Zwerling, Head of Middle East, Shore Capital Markets & Founding Member, UAE–Israel Business Council.
Joint session with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that will delve into the most pressing global and regional issues of concern to world Jewry. The discussions will aim to foster a greater understanding of the challenges facing our affiliated communities and explore ways in which we can work together to address them.
Opening Remarks by Ms. Shuli Davidovich, Head, Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions
Moderated by Ms. Hamutal Rogel Fuchs, Head,Jewish Communities Department
Closing Remarks by Amb. Emmanuel Nahshon, Senior Deputy Director General for Public Diplomacy
Evening co-organized by WJC and Jewish National Fund-USA to celebrate Israel´s independence, featuring world renowned composer Gil Shohat, accompanied by Daniella Lugassy, Cabra Casay and Shahar Edwi, and special guest performance by Nicole Raviv, together with the winner of the “The Narrow Bridge” song contest.
Keynote address at the official launch of the Leadership Bridge for the Future, a WJC initiative in partnership with the Reut Group and the Jewish Peoplehood Coalition. With a strong emphasis on gathering younger leaders for joint dialogue and action, this innovative program brings together future leaders from WJC-affiliated Diaspora communities with their Israeli counterparts to foster dialogue, understanding and unity.
An inspirational visit to Zichron Menachem’s House of Dreams, dedicated to helping children living with cancer, where we will gain unique insights into the organization’s mission and operations and meet with its founders.
The Western Wall, known in the West as the Wailing Wall, and in Islam as the Buraq Wall, is a portion of ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem that forms part of the larger retaining wall of the hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount.
The birth of the State of Israel was one of the most momentous events in the long history of the Jewish people and forever changed its trajectory. Born immediately after the unimaginable cataclysm that was the Shoah, the Jewish State of 1948 would hardly be recognizable to those who only know the country in its present iteration.
In 1948, only some 600,000 Jews lived in Palestine/Israel, which was wracked by war as five invading armies sought to quash the newborn state. Seven thousand Jews lost their lives in the fierce struggle to secure the country’s independence and beat back the invaders. Even while the war was on, Jews from across Europe—the remnant of ravaged Jewish communities decimated by the Shoah—streamed into the country, as did Jews from age-old Jewish communities in the Middle East who were forced to leave their homes following the establishment of the State of Israel.
Those years were especially trying. Israel had no natural resources, no monetary reserves, and was compelled to absorb successive waves of impoverished Jewish refugees, many of whom had little education or few skills that could be harnessed to develop the economy and to raise the standard of living. To cope with that situation, an austerity program of stringent price controls and rationing was instituted that was only relieved by capital raised among Jewish communities and also the infusion of Holocaust reparations-related funds from the Federal Republic of Germany.
Israel’s government in those years initiated vast public-sector projects in industry, infrastructure, agriculture, and housing through the use of public funds rather than through private capital markets—and the private sector was left to languish. Over time, the situation stabilized and the standard of living gradually improved, but the Arab world insisted that Israel was an interloper in the Middle East that could only be driven out by force. The Palestinian Arabs who had fled the country were left to wallow in refugee camps as political pawns, and little effort was made to ameliorate their deplorable plight.
Over the years, Israel fought several major wars and embarked on a succession of other military engagements that claimed thousands of lives and caused terrible suffering. Israelis have also faced a never-ending war of terror played out both in the country and beyond its borders. Despite these threats, Israel has blossomed. Immigration has been the lifeblood of the country, and the influx of Jews most recently from Ethiopia and the Soviet Union and its successor states have enriched Israeli culture and society.
In the 1990s, the economy of the country was unfettered, and Israel has become a leading R & D hub and a high-tech powerhouse. Today, Israel’s GDP stands at $488,500 million ($52,000 per capita), ranking 27th out of 196 countries. Its universities and medical facilities are among the best in the world and are internationally respected. The country has also found greater acceptance globally, including in its own neighborhood in which it was once shunned.
The current population of Israel stand at 9,175,000. Jews account for some 75% of the country’s citizens (6,500,000), by far the largest concentration of Jews anywhere in the world. The Jews of Israel today accounts for some 40% of world Jewry. It is a young population. Some 28% of Israelis are under 15 years of age and its present fertility rate is 3.01 children per woman. Israel is very much a community of communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It is a vibrant, democratic, and Jewish state whose religious and national minorities enjoy rights that the inhabitants of the neighboring countries can only dream about. Of course, security challenges remain, and a comprehensive peace still seems elusive. Within the country there is much and often heated discussion on the contours of Israeli identity and the boundaries between synagogue and state, but few doubt that Israel is here to stay and or that it is the beating heart of the Jewish people.