World Jewry, particularly American Jewry, will not be able to survive without an intimate link with Israel, Premier David Ben Gurion asserted today. He voiced this warning at a ceremony where he was awarded the Hadassah’s tenth annual Henrietta Szold Humanitarian Award.
Three thousand persons, including Israel President Itzhak Ben Zvi and 400 members of the American women’s Zionist organization, watched while United States Ambassador Edward B. Lawson and Miss Loula Lasker, chairman of Hadassah’s award committee, presented the award to Mr. Ben Gurion. The Premier will donate the $1,000 which accompanies the award to Sifrei Mofet, a publishing house which translates world classics into Hebrew.
Premier Ben Gurion insisted that religion was no longer, and had not been for decades, a bond uniting and consolidating all Jews. Specifically dealing with the American Jewish community, the Premier cited the decline of Yiddish and the fact that most American Jews speak English as evidence supporting this thesis.
Synagogue and temple allegiance in the United States, he continued, is chiefly formal. Only a small proportion of the people who attend synagogue are familiar with the 613 Commandments of the Jewish faith, he said. Assimilation has developed to the extent that 90 percent of America’s younger Jewish generation does not know anything about Judaism, Mr. Ben Gurion maintained.
“Never was such a great Jewish community in such danger of gentle extinction as American Jewry today,” he said. “If this great historic miracle had not taken place in our time and the State of Israel had not risen, the great majority of the Jews of the United States would have been left without any bond to Judaism.”
The link between Israel and the Jews of America and other lands, the Premier said, is not confined to immigration but includes an attachment to the sources of Judaism, a knowledge of the Hebrew language and literature and an overall knowledge of the Bible in the original. “It also means,” he said, “local support to Israel in its political struggle and its work for development and absorption.”
Mr. Ben Gurion described the Zionist movement in America as confined to the older generation, and charged that “it is a movement what does not know what to say to the younger generation.” Reiterating his oft expressed belief in the historic mission of Israel, he said that if the country can live in peace and freedom, it will be “a light unto the nations.”
In his address, Ambassador Lawson compared Mr. Ben Gurion to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, pointing out that like them the Israeli leader had “met destiny head on and unafraid. He dreamed the patriot’s dream, which sees beyond the years. He has striven mightily for the Israel of this day and this hour. He belongs to Israel, he belongs to America, he belongs to the world wherever men of good faith labor for the common good of all.”
Premier Ben Gurion paid warm tribute to the work of Hadassah in the past 40 years. He recalled his close association with Miss Szold, whom he ranked with the great leaders of American Zionism–Louis D. Brandeis, Dr. Judah Magnes, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.