NEW YORK (Nov. 15)
In a speech resonant with sweet nostalgia and optimism for the future, Israeli President Chaim Herzog urged American Jewish federation leaders gathered here last week to place the subject of Jewish continuity at the top of their agenda.
Herzog addressed the 61st General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations at an international plenary held last Thursday evening in Radio City Music Hall. The event capped a day of forums and workshops dedicated to the Jewish continuity issue.
Herzog said that Jewish education must be the first priority of the organized Jewish community both in Israel and the Diaspora. He urged the leadership to work hard to “stem the tide of assimilation,” saying that “your future and our future depend on it.”
One of the “great challenges of the Jewish people,” he said, is the “preservation of our unique spiritual and cultural heritage.”
Herzog opened his address with a “sincere and heartfelt” greeting to President- elect Bill Clinton, with the hope that he “will continue to develop and expand the special relationship” between the United States and Israel.
He quickly added a note of gratitude to President Bush for his “major role” in the Middle East peace process and wished the outgoing president and his wife the best of luck.
Herzog, who will retire from office in May after serving 10 years as Israel’s sixth president, talked of the “oneness of the Jewish people” he felt during his numerous visits to the world’s Jewish communities.
He shared emotional reminiscences of his visits to Jewish communities in such far-flung places as Fiji, Singapore, Czechoslovakia, Zaire, Holland and Argentina.
As president, Herzog made the first visit by an Israeli chief of state to Germany. During that trip, he visited several concentration camp sites and “swore in the name of the Jewish people never to forget and never to forgive.”
Herzog’s face shone with pride and optimism when he reflected on the changes that have taken place in the world since he assumed office.
In 1983, he said, the concepts of perestroika and glasnost were “unknown and unheard of.” It is an “irony of history,” he said, that the Soviet Union, which had been the world’s champion of anti-Israel sentiment, dissolved itself only after recognizing the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
He recalled that in 1983, the “bulk of the human race had no relations” with Israel. Today, Israel is recognized by and has diplomatic relations with two- thirds of U.N. member states.
Ten years ago, he said, few would have dreamt that Israel would be engaged in peace negotiations with the Arab countries of the Middle East. “The fact that it is taking place is a major source of satisfaction,” he said.
On a more somber note, Herzog identified the Iranian-backed forces of Islamic fundamentalism as the “greatest single danger to the free world today” and urged the world community to combat the threat with all deliberate effort.”
The president expressed gratitude for the Diaspora’s support of Israel. “Without you,” he said, “we’d be just another small country fighting for existence in a cruel world.”
Also speaking at the Radio City event were Joel Tauber, national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, and Dr. Gerald Halbert, president of the United Israel Appeal of Canada, who gave reports on their respective fund-raising campaigns.
Although there “does not exist in Canada an ideal climate for fund raising,” said Halbert, UIA-Canada has collected over $100 million in pledges for Operation Exodus and is reporting an increase in 1993 pledges. Operation Exodus is the campaign to finance the absorption of Russian immigrants in Israel.
American contributions to UJA’s Operation Exodus campaign total $770 million to date, according to Tauber. The target sum for the campaign is $1 billion, which Tauber said he would like to complete by the end of 1993.