From Our CEO
Israel's Future, Our Future
July 21st, 2023

I had the privilege this past Wednesday of listening from the House gallery as Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke before a historic joint session of Congress.

It was only the second time an Israeli president has ever had this honor. The first time — as President Herzog movingly noted — was November 1987, more than 35 years ago, when his father, President Chaim Herzog, addressed Congress in honor of Israel’s 40th Anniversary.

At a time of ever-increasing political polarization in Congress, it’s particularly noteworthy that the invitation for President Herzog to speak was entirely bipartisan, announced by both House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and supported by minority leaders Hakeem Jeffries in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

There are life experiences when time briefly slows down and you’re aware that you’re a witness to history. This was such an experience. Imprinted on my memory: the emotion that welled watching President Herzog being escorted into the House chamber by dozens of leading Republicans and Democrats from the Senate and the House. The 29 sustained standing ovations received from every corner of the vast chamber and gallery. The president’s concluding declaration "Am Yisrael Chai” — which he didn’t even need to translate — met by thunderous bipartisan support.

While the U.S. Congress likely didn't know the importance of the date when they made the invitation, Wednesday — as President Herzog noted — coincided with the start of the Hebrew month of Av. It was the first of the nine days culminating with the fast of Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem and the end of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. The Talmud famously says that it was sinat chinam, baseless hatred and infighting, that caused this tragedy — a lesson that resonates through the ages, including very much today.

We’re all aware of the dramatic divides tearing at the fabric of Israeli society, and the massive challenges ahead, including the planned vote next week in Knesset on the first piece of the government’s radical judicial overhaul efforts. We're enormously grateful to President Herzog for his unrelenting efforts to bring the parties together, to try to achieve compromise for the sake of Israel’s future, which, to be clear, is our future, too.

Because the story of the Jewish people, wherever we are, is inextricably intertwined with Israel. World Jewry is made incalculably stronger by a vibrant Jewish and democratic state of Israel. And Israel is made incalculably stronger by a vibrant and connected world Jewry.

President Herzog has always deeply understood this — and has devoted his life to strengthening the connections between Israel and world Jewry.

To further signify this bond, yesterday UJA hosted President Herzog at a convening of more than 500 leaders from across our diverse New York Jewish community. President Herzog reaffirmed the critical need to maintain strong ties, referencing Kol Ha’am — Voice of the People, the president’s global initiative aimed at fostering candid and complex discussions about the future of the Jewish people.

UJA Federation of New York >> <p><em>(left)</em> Eric Goldstein <em>(right)</em> CNN&rsquo;s Bianna Golodryga in conversation with President Herzog</p>

(left) Eric Goldstein (right) CNN’s Bianna Golodryga in conversation with President Herzog

Right now, it’s painfully apparent that Israel is at a crossroads. The coming days may be incredibly challenging, the source of despair for many of us. But from the sweeping panorama of Jewish history — a history that stretches from the ancient Temples of Jerusalem to the U.S. Capitol celebrating the modern state of Israel — we know it’s within our power to shape our own future.

The one thing we can’t do is disengage.

Shabbat shalom