Gil Troy: A living advertisement for Zionism’s redemptive power

Center Field: A living advertisement for Zionism’s redemptive power

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 5-18-09

I applaud American reformers’ push to improve the Jewish Agency’s governance and purge politics from the selection of its chairman. But today’s political appointee is the right man for the job. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s nomination of the legendary human rights activist Natan Sharansky to be the Jewish Agency’s chairman is a gift to the agency and the Jewish people. After a lifetime of serving not just the Jewish people but humanity, Sharansky should not have to ask anyone for votes. Those of us who care about Israel, Zionism and the Jewish future should beg him to serve.

The Jewish Agency is at an awkward moment in its proud history. It was established on August 11, 1929, fulfilling the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine proposing a “Jewish agency” representing world Jewry to help establish “the Jewish National Home… in Palestine.” In 1948, the actual state superseded this proto-state. Today, with that historic mission accomplished, the agency promotes aliya, Jewish-Zionist education and Israel-Diaspora partnerships.

Most Jewish Agency employees I meet are extraordinary. Be they working for Partnership 2000 to partner 250 Diaspora communities with 50 Israeli regions, serving in the World Zionist Organization or developing MASA to bring young Jews for sustained periods of work or study in Israel, they are idealistic, passionate, visionary. Unfortunately, they work for a bureaucracy with a terrible reputation.

I have met the occasional Jewish Agency hack who sends a staffer ahead to check that he has a microphone to address two dozen people. Then, having wasted staff resources, this apparatchik – with a rumored penchant for expensive travel – alienates all the young, enthusiastic Zionists he addresses with his dismissive arrogance. As a result, when many people pass Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem they imagine hearing the ticktock, ticktock of bureaucrats marking time and the clink, clink, whirl, whirl of good money flushing down the drain.

To me, the building pulsates with the energy of the Zionist mission. It is rooted in Jewish history, throbbing with idealists, and like Israel itself, a key to our salvation as Jews and human beings. Just as Israel’s occasional mistakes should not define Zionism, the occasional pen pusher should not tarnish the agency’s reputation.

DURING THESE difficult times, with the Jewish Agency seeking more of two key “M”s – money and a focused mission – Natan Sharansky can save it, while using this platform to revitalize Zionism. Just because Sharansky’s story is familiar, we should never take for granted the miracle he not only lived through but shaped. When I visited the Soviet Union in 1985, Sharansky had been imprisoned since his March 1977 arrest on trumped-up charges. Few of us imagined that within a year he would be free and that within a few years, the Soviet Union would implode.

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