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Hertzberg: Education, Not Aliya is Prime Task of Zionism in Diaspora

An American Jewish leader today placed-Jewish education for the young above aliya as “the prime task of Zionism in the diaspora.” Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, president of the American Jewish Congress also said that American Jews see Israel not as a place to move to but rather as a way of keeping their own Jewishness alive in the diaspora. Hertzberg spoke at the opening session of the annual Congress-sponsored American-Israeli Dialogue here.

“The centrality of Israel as understood in the free diaspora, does not mean that Jews see themselves as building into the Jewish State. It means, on the contrary, that the labors for the State are the prime preservative of the diaspora,” he said. He added that “At this moment, the prime task of Zionism in the diaspora is to mount a rescue operation so that every Jewish child receives some kind of Jewish education, some direct experience of Israel early in his life so that he is challenged with the possibility of opting himself for aliya.”

Declaring that he was a Zionist because he is a citizen of the Jewish nation, “not because I may carry an Israeli passport.” Hertzberg said that it was wrong to say that the battle of American Jewry for support of Israel must be commanded from Jerusalem. “I do not mean to deny either the sovereignty or preeminence of Israel’s political leadership but the leadership of the rest of the Jewish world must be brought into the ongoing process of thinking and planning to deal with our inter-related problems,” he said.

Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, addressing the dialogue, did not take direct issue with Hertzberg’s views on the primacy of Jewish education. But he chided diaspora Jewry which, he said, for the first time in history “was not giving that of which Israel needs most–aliya.” Eban rejected the idea that Israel’s social imperfections discouraged large-scale Jewish Immigration. He said those imperfections existed because not enough Jews came to Israel. “You cannot create our weaknesses by your calculated absence and then invoke those weaknesses as a reason for not coming to correct them,” Eban said.

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