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“Our first act should be to find a common language” with the Diaspora,” said the Jewish Agency chairman, who unveiled his plan to teach Hebrew to Jews worldwide.

By: Dan Lavie/Israel Hayom via JNS

Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog has announced a new plan to teach Hebrew to Jews worldwide as “a Jewish national value and birthright privilege.”

Herzog was laying down his vision as the agency’s new leader in a speech to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

He thanked the former agency head for his leadership, saying he was following in the footsteps of a “great Israeli hero, Natan Sharansky.”

Herzog said one challenge facing the Jewish Agency is how to capture the hearts and minds of young North American Jews, who feel “increasingly alienated and disconnected.”

He said another major challenge is how to maintain the link between the “two pillars” of world Jewry: North America, which he called “Babylon” in reference to the ancient exile, and Israel. Herzog said that the specter of the Diaspora distancing itself from Israel is an “existential threat” to the entire Jewish people.

“If Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora do not seek common ground … to courageously confront together the challenges of this new age, we are in danger of losing a significant part of the Jewish people,” he said.

Finding a Common Language

“Our first act should be to find a common language. When I say common, I mean both literally and figuratively. We have a rare and sacred national treasure: the Hebrew language.

“In order for us to be able to speak to one another and listen to one another and to debate, discuss and delight one another, we must return to our national treasure. In order for us all to be able to embrace our rich history and dream of a flourishing future, we must enable every young Jewish person in the world to learn Hebrew.”

Herzog called on the Israeli government to “honor its historic pledge to take care of the Jewish people in the Diaspora by allocating a substantial share of its annual budget to a national enterprise of spreading and teaching Hebrew all over the Jewish world.

“From here on, it will be every young Jew’s birthright, wherever he or she may live, not only to visit this historic homeland but to learn the language of the Jewish people, the Jewish heritage and the Jewish future,” he said.

The Jewish Agency plans to work with all entities currently involved in Hebrew language instruction, including with the World Zionist Congress to send Hebrew teachers where needed, with Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry to locate qualified teachers, and with the New York-based Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, which funds projects aimed at strengthening Jewish identity.


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