On Thursday, April 26, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of education and minister of diaspora affairs, visited SAR Academy in Riverdale.
SAR Principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss commented, “This school represents so many thousands and thousands of people who live far away from Medinat Yisrael but feel deeply connected and are deeply grateful to be celebrating Israel at 70.”
“Here at SAR, we strive to feel a part of Medinat Yisrael,” SAR Student Representative Eliora Gissinger stated in her welcoming remarks. “Even though we are located here in the United States, our hearts are always in Israel. As you have surely noticed, our school has no walls and therefore inspires us to be creative and feel a sense of openness, which encourages the students to share information relating to Medinat Yisrael. We try to connect the next generation to Torah, Am Yisrael and ahavat ha’aretz.”
Minister Bennett began by exclaiming, “Man, I wish I was a student here. It warms my heart to see the love that each one of you has for Medinat Yisrael. SAR doesn’t have walls, which encourages creativity. In Israel, you have Orthodox, secular and Charedi. You have from here and from there, and sometimes their definitions create walls that we don’t want. We don’t want walls, because all of us are one people. I will import from SAR to tear down the walls in Israel between Jews.” He also told the students the inspiring but not well-known story of Emmanuel Moreno, who served in the IDF with Bennett. “One of Israel’s greatest heroes ever. He went behind enemy lines and did amazing stuff. When he started military service, he wasn’t the greatest at each skill, but he tried and came in first in training. It is not about what you were born with; it is about how hard you work.”
One of the highlights of the assembly was Rabbi Krauss’ introduction of all the students who are making aliyah shortly and those who are returning to Israel this summer. They stood with Bennett and the crowd sang V’shavu Banim. The assembly concluded with a school-wide singing of Hatikvah.
After touring the school, Bennett then met with SAR middle and high school students. He explained that in 1967, after the Six Day War, his parents made aliyah to Haifa, where he was born. Bennett spent part of his childhood in Montreal and New Jersey. After his army service, he moved to the high-tech industry and started a software company, and later on entered the political arena.
Bennett detailed his perspective on Israel as a startup nation, identifying four reasons for its success: One, Judaism is rooted in critical reasoning and debates. By nature we are always questioning and arguing. This friction initiates ideas. Second is the Jewish “tachlis” approach of just getting things done. Third, at a very young age, Israelis are given huge responsibilities, helping them grow and succeed. The fourth reason is that we are all one family; we work hard together.
Bennett discussed his concern about the future of the Jews of the Diaspora. “There are currently six million Jews in America, many of whom are drifting away. We need to work hard to connect Diaspora Jews. Programs such as Birthright and being present on college campuses are very important.” His final message to the youth, in preparation for their college years, was that they must stand up to those who will attack Israel and question its right to exist. “Never stay silent,” Bennett proclaimed. “Stand up and fight for Israel. Stand up, speak up and defend us!
By Judy Berger