On that tragic morning last March when a teacher and three children were murdered at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, there was no security agent on duty at the school because the community could not afford full-time service, according to Pierre Besnainou, former president of the European Jewish Congress.
“We failed,” he told an audience at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem last week, speaking of the French and world Jewish communities.
The session was on world Jewry’s expectations of Israel, and Besnainou, saying that he represented the 20 percent of world Jewry not living in North America or Israel, put forth the case that after decades of supporting Israel financially, it was time for Israel to ensure that the demographically endangered Jewish communities of Europe do not disappear.
Faced with difficult decisions, the local communities are forced to choose between directing funds toward Jewish education, community solidarity and additional security, he said.
“If 1 percent of Israel’s budget was invested in the diaspora we would see a big change,” he asserted, noting that European Jews look to Israel as their main support and connection to Jewish peoplehood. “If we don’t do something we disappear.”
It was a poignant moment in a session devoted primarily to the relationship between American Jews and Israel, a reminder that we should widen our lens when looking at world Jewry and its needs. For all of our very real concerns here at home about assimilation and transmitting Jewish values to the next generation, our community has the resources, if not the will, to reverse these disturbing trends. And we are not faced with daily worries about anti-Semitism as are too many of our brothers and sisters in Europe.
In its remarkable six decades as a state, Israel has gone from being the supplicant to the provider for much of world Jewry.
A great deal of energy has been focused on aliyah and absorption, particularly for those whose very lives were endangered. Now that the rescue of Jewish communities is no longer required and the Israel’s economy continues to thrive, its mandate is changing. It will be called on to play an increasingly active role in the coming decades in preserving and sustaining Jewish life in Europe, South America and the former Soviet Union, reinforcing its position as the spiritual, emotional and practical center of Jewish life.