I often hear people say they’ve been to Israel so many times. Why go again? To me, that’s like saying, I’ve seen my family so many times, why visit again? Going to Israel is always energizing. It has the familiarity of home and the newness of adventure travel. This past trip was no exception.
I was visiting with some of the programs of The Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and its suburbs. This past Thursday, I met a group of young, single immigrants studying at Ulpan Etzion from 25 different countries. Most were getting ready to go into the IDF, the army, after a six month stay at the absorption center. I met troubled kids in the Qiryat Year’im Youth Village, mostly from broken homes of immigrant parents. Then I got to listen in on a rehearsal of a band of percussionists that included Argentinean and American Jewish students participating in a Masa Israel Journey program at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Hebrew University's Rothberg School. The percussion studio was in the basement. That was a good thing. It was very loud. The piece was by a Japanese composer, one of the percussionists was Japanese, four were Israelis (including an Ethiopian, a Russian and two Sabras) and one was an Argentinean.
Israel's demography is highly unusual because of our disproportionate number of immigrants. This, in turn, makes social service needs very complex and disproportionately high compared to other developed nations. I am deeply proud that Israel has made the commitment it has to absorbing immigrants, despite the high cost of social services in a nation under the strain of intense security costs.
If we take the Jewish mission to be a light onto the nations seriously, then we also have to do our part to make sure Israel has the capacity to keep inviting immigrants and nurturing them, especially the most vulnerable. We need to bring more young people over for meaningful long-term visits.
Last week, I encountered a cacophony of different voices. Many voices can make it hard sometimes to hear any one voice. But many voices also make beautiful – if occasionally very loud – music. Together, we make unimaginable dreams happen.
Dr. Misha Galperin is President & CEO of Jewish Agency International