Vision-Driven Leadership in the 21st Century
An Analysis of The Pew Report
On Monday 11 November 2013, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke to a packed room at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly gathering in Jerusalem.
In his session entitled ‘Vision-Driven Leadership in the 21st Century’, Rabbi Sacks spoke at length about his perspective on the recently published report by the Pew Research Center: “A Portrait of Jewish Americans”.
Rabbi Sacks presented a counterintuitive narrative of the Pew Report noting that it “is not a story of collective failure. It is a story of three very different kinds of success by very different groups of Jews, coming at very different times to America, facing different crises, dreaming different dreams.”
These stories of success are: (1) of Jews as part of American society; (2) of Judaism as a culture and ethnicity; and (3) of the growth of an Orthodoxy presence in America.
For Rabbi Sacks, the major challenge posed by the report – for American Jewish and Jewish communities around the world – is the need to answer one of the major questions being asked by the next generation of the Jewish people: not how should I be Jewish, but why.
Drawing on his experience and the lessons learnt from a similar study undertaken in Britain 20 years ago, Rabbi Sacks offers his perspective on how this can be done.
Cindy and friends, thank you so very much. And it is such a privilege to be introduced by Cindy, who is an absolute walking role-model of vision-driven leadership in so many different aspects of Jewish and American life, and we thank you for all you’ve given Am Yisrael and the pride you’ve conferred on American Jewry and on us.
Cindy, I have to tell you, it was quite fun being made a Lord because when they asked me what I most appreciated, I replied ,”It was the pleasure of having Her Majesty’s confirmation that I married a “lady”.
But I have to tell you, I divide my time between the House of Lords and the House of the Lord. And if I was to choose, I would definitely choose the House of the Lord because in the House of the Lord, in a synagogue, only the Rabbi gives a sermon. In the House of Lords, everyone gives a sermon.
But it is a great, great privilege to be a part of this remarkable gathering. I’m a huge admirer of the work of every one of you in this room. You are leaders of the greatest of all Diaspora Jewish communities. You’ve been brilliantly creative in the past, and I’m sure you will be even more so, facing the challenges of the future, and I simply give you a brachah, that wonderful brachah that Moshe Rabeinu gave, Yehi ratzon shetishreh Shechinah bema’aseh yedeichem – May Hashem’s presence rest in all you do. Amen.
Friends, I want to say a few words on a topic that many, many other people have addressed during this conference, namely, the Pew Report. And I do so in terms of our own experience in Anglo Jewry, some of which you may find relevant, some of which may not.
But 22 years ago, when I became Chief Rabbi, we in British Jewry faced exactly this challenge. We had a declining community. There was a huge danger that out-marriage would become rampant. We had declined in 40 or 50 years from 1945, from a community of 450,000 Jews to one of 300,000. And it was very clear to us that if we did not take decisive action all those years ago, we would eventually lose Anglo Jewry. And so we did.
And 22 years later, we can see the results. In 1993, 20 years ago in British Jewry, 25% of Jewish children attended Jewish day schools; today, 70%. We have built more Jewish day schools in the last 20 years than in all the three and a half centuries of Anglo Jewish history before then.
Number two, we became from one of the less creative Jewish communities in the world to one of the most creative, not only educationally, but culturally as well.
And thirdly, we were able – believe it or not, and this surprised even me – to reverse the demographic decline. For 60 years, year on year, between 1945 and 2005, Anglo Jewry was shrinking. In 2005, that trend was reversed. And for the first time in history, we have a community that is growing, albeit slowly, without any immigration, simply in terms of our own internal growth.
So that is what happens when you create systemic change across a community. You can reverse a trend that may have lasted several generations. However, I need to tell you a story. May I do this? Can I tell you a story?
Because when you spend a certain amount of your time studying Talmud, you learn to look at things in a counter-intuitive way. And I love this story of a young man who had never learned Talmud before, who came to Jerusalem and sought admission in a Yeshiva.
And the head of the Yeshiva looked at this young man and thought to himself, “He doesn’t really look to me like somebody who can handle Talmud.” And so he declined to admit the young man. The young man begged the Rosh Yeshiva and said, “Please, please, please, test me and see I’m sure I have the necessary intelligence to handle Talmud.”
So the head of the Yeshiva asked him the following question. “Two men come down, a chimney: one comes down dirty; one comes down clean. Which one has a wash?” The student says, “The dirty one.” “Wrong,” says the Rosh Yeshiva, “The dirty one looks at the clean one, sees he’s clean thinks, “I must be clean also.” It’s the clean one who looks at the dirty one and sees he’s dirty – thinks, “I must be dirty.” The clean one as the wash.”
“Ah,” says the young man. Goes away, comes back the next day. And he says, “I’ve been thinking about this. I think I now understand Talmud, please give me one more chance.” So the Rosh Yeshiva says, “Okay, I will give you one more chance. Here is the question. Two men come down at a chimney. One comes down dirty, one comes down clean, which one has the wash?”
“The clean one,” says the student. “Wrong,” says the Rosh yeshiva, “The clean one looks at his hands sees they’re clean. The dirty one looks at his hands sees they’re dirty, the dirty one has a wash.” “Ah,” the student goes away dismayed.
A third time he comes back and says, “Please, I really think I now understand. Give me one last chance.” So the Rosh Yeshiva says, “I’ll give you one last chance. Here’s a question. Two men come down a chimney, one comes down dirty, one comes down clean, which one has a wash?”
So the student is thinking, and in the end he says, “I give up. Tell me, which one has a wash?”
And the Rosh Yeshiva looks at him and says, “Tell me, how can two men come down in a chimney and one come down dirty, one come down clean?” From which I infer, there is always more than one way of interpreting the facts. And that is what I wanted to suggest about the Pew Report.
We know its findings. Intermarriage, which was running at a level of 2% at the beginning of the 20th century became 17% by the 1970s, rose to 58%. Now, according to the report, 71% outside of orthodoxy. Second. 32% of young Jews see themselves as Jews by birth alone and not by any other connection and define themselves as being ‘of no religion’. Of that one third of young Jews, almost none of them are bringing up their children as Jews.
Number three. A remarkable figure. 94% of American Jews are proud to be Jewish. When asked, “What is being Jewish? What does it mean to you?” 73% said remembering the Holocaust, 69% said leading a moral life, 56% working for justice and equality, 49% being intellectually curious, 42% a sense of humour. Only 28% said being part of a Jewish community and only 19% observing Jewish law. And these are very interesting figures.
Finally, there is a very curious phenomenon, which I must admit from the outside I’ve never understood. There is a general law that what Christians do, Jews do only in a Jewish sort of way. So if you have a country where their Christians are religious, Jews tend to be religious. If you have a country where Christians tend to be very secular, Jews tend to be very secular. The exception is America.
And it’s very interesting that whereas 56% of Americans in general say religion is important in their lives, only 26% of Jews say likewise. Whereas 69% of Americans believe in God, only 34% of Jews do. Whereas 50% of Americans attend a house of worship at least once a month, only 23% of Jews do.
Which actually I’m a little sad about because there’s been a medical experiment, longitudinal study, which showed some 10 or 15 years ago, that regular attendance to the house of worship increases your life expectancy. Did you know this Cindy?
It turns out that if you’re an American, your average life expectancy is 75 years. If you attend regularly a house of worship, 82 years. Or as I said to Elaine, “If you go regularly to shul, you live seven years longer or maybe it just seems seven years longer.”
Anyway, that in brief is the Pew Report. And all of you will have read the responses to it, and there’ve been dozens, even hundreds of them. And they all come into one of three categories.
Category one: the Pew Report represents a crisis for American Jewry. Reaction Two: the Pew report records a crisis, but a longstanding one – it’s nothing new, it’s the continuation of trends that have been around for a long time. And number three: that Jewish identity in America is not weakening, it is simply changing.
What I want to suggest, however, is a radically different way of interpreting the facts. There is a different way of reading these statistics – quite different from what we might have thought. I am going to suggest that very often when we look at demographic figures, we make the error of aggregation.
That is, we see a lot of statistics and we think they refer to one entity, whereas in fact, those statistics may cover very different groups of people with very different aspirations who came to America at different times, were shaped by different historical events. And there is a fallacy of aggregation in looking at statistics and saying, “This tells a story about a single entity called American Jewry.”
What I want to suggest is the Pew Report does not tell the story of one collective failure. It tells the story of three quite different successes. And nobody I’ve seen has suggested this yet. And yet I believe it’s true.
And this is the story I want to tell you because we have to understand this story if we are to understand what is the critical intervention that vision-driven leadership can make in the future.
Let me begin with story one. In 1911, the immediate Past President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, attended a play, a drama on Broadway, and told the author of this drama that never before had he been so moved by a play. The play was called The Melting Pot, and the author of the play was a Jewish writer called Israel Zangwill.
Here is the story of The Melting Pot. Its hero is a young Jewish man called David, who has come to New York from Russia. He has come because in 1903, all the members of his family were killed during the Kishinev pogrom. In America, where he seeks a new land of opportunity, he wants to write an opera about the unity of humankind. He meets and falls in love with a young lady, also from Russia, called Vera. They get engaged, they want to get married and, in the course of this, he comes to meet Vera’s father. It turns out that Vera’s father was the Captain of the Cossack Brigade that murdered David’s family. David and Vera still get married and that is, for Zangwill, the happy end of the story.
In Russia, you had Jews and you had Christians, and the result was massacres and pogroms. In America, you don’t have Jews and Christians anymore. You have the melting pot. You just have Americans. The story of success is when Jew marries Christian and a new nation of Americans is born. That, for Israel Zangwill, was success, a dream of an America free of antisemitism, free of ethnic and religious divisions, in which a new kind of human being would be born.
So although Zangwill could only dream wildly of an age in which antisemitism was a thing of the past, nonetheless, were Zangwill to be alive today, he would look at the Pew report and say, “That 71% of out-marriage is not a failure, but the success of the dream that I had of America as the melting pot in which Jews would finally be accepted.” That is the first story.
The second story is set several decades later, with a young Jew who comes to America to be a Rabbi, by the name of Mordechai Kaplan. Mordechai Kaplan, whose father came from Lithuania, could see that American Jews were not moved by religion the way they had been in the Haim, in the Shtetl, in the pale of settlement. Somehow or other, it would not be religion that spoke to American Jews. But what could Jewish identity be if not religious identity? There’d never been another basis for Jewish identity.
However, Mordechai Kaplan studied a great scholar who had a huge influence on Zionism, called Achad Ha’am. Achad Ha’am had studied a great scholar, one of the founders of sociology, called Emile Durkheim. Emile Durkheim had argued that the whole purpose of religion was creating group identity. So through Achad Ha’am, Mordechai Kaplan came forward with the idea of what he called ‘Judaism as a civilisation’, or as we would nowadays call it, a matter of culture and ethnicity.
Of course, Mordecai Kaplan, quite apart from starting a version of Judaism called Reconstructionism, created something that was absolutely fundamental to the development of American Jewry, the JCC, which was for him, the home of Judaism as a cultural and ethnic phenomenon.
Now reading the Pew report, were Mordechai Kaplan able to do that, he would see this as a triumphant vindication of his vision of Jewish identity, because for almost all American Jews, with a very few exceptions, Jewish identity is a matter of culture and ethnicity. The number of people who say otherwise, say it’s a matter of religion, come in at way under 20%. So that is the second story of success.
Mordechai Kaplan could only dream this for one reason, and it is the opening sentence of the book he published in 1934 called “Judaism as a Civilisation”. Listen to that opening sentence. “Until the 19th century, most Jews regarded being Jewish as a privilege. Since then, they have come to regarded it as a burden.” He wanted to achieve Jewish pride, and were Mordechai Kaplan able to see the Pew report with that stunning figure of 94% of American Jews who are proud to be Jews, he would consider himself triumphantly vindicated. So that is the second story of success, not out-marriage, but Judaism as culture and ethnicity.
There is a third group who dreamed a totally impossible dream. These were the Orthodox Jews who came to America, fleeing Nazi Germany, Nazi-dominated Europe in the 1930s and very early 1940s. They dreamed that somehow they could build an Orthodox presence here in America.
It was an unbelievably remote possibility. Orthodoxy in America had almost completely disappeared. A rabbinical student in the RIETS, in the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in Yeshiva University in the 1920s reports that those who were trained to be Rabbis in the 1920s – Orthodox Rabbis – were told by their tutors, “It is your job to say Kaddish for Orthodoxy. It’s about to die, and we want you to give it a decent burial.”
So for all the Jews of Eastern Europe, America had been seen as the treifene medinah, the place you go and you lose your Yiddishkeit. So the idea of this ‘Ud mutzal may-aish’ (Zechariah 3:2), this branch plucked from the burning, this tiny handful of Yeshiva heads and Chassidic leaders coming to America and believing that maybe you could replicate Eastern Europe, even in New York – this seemed an impossible dream.
However, if you’ve read the Pew report, you will see an extraordinary statistic. The retention rates for orthodoxy among the 65-year-old and upward age group is 22%. Orthodoxy only managed to keep hold of one-fifth of its devotees. Among Jews under 30, the retention rate is 83%. So orthodoxy, having held on to only one-fifth of its membership, today, is holding onto four-fifths and the in-married percentage among Orthodox Jews is 98%. So orthodoxy itself has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.
So here, if you aggregate all the figures, you fail to see the complexity of the picture that has emerged. This is not a story of collective failure. It is a story of three different kinds of success by very different groups of Jews coming at different times to America, facing different crises, dreaming different dreams. But they all achieve their dreams, from which I infer that American Jewry can achieve anything it sets itself to do.
I had a mentor in hope. I had a vision-driven leadership tutorial. I don’t know if you have this thing, I’m sure you do. I got mine about 10 years ago. It came with my car, and it was called a “satellite navigation system”. You have something like this? I can’t tell you what a beautiful, even mystical, experience this was. You’re sitting in the car, you key in your destination, and a very polite lady says, “You want to go there? You go 300 yards straight, and then you turn right.”
I thought it was absolutely wonderful, but it immediately struck me that whoever invented this machine had never in his or her life met a Jewish driver! Here’s this polite lady who says, “Go 300 yards straight and turn right,” and the Jewish driver says, ” What does she know? I’ve been living here for 60 years. I know you go 300 yards and then you turn left.”
What I found deeply instructive is what this machine does when you completely ignore its instructions after it’s only done what you asked it to do. First thing it does, it has savlanut. I can’t tell you how Israelis need tutorials from their satellite navigation systems. Never loses its cool. It used to pause for a little while and send up a little sign saying, “Recalculating the route,” and then – lo and behold – it shows you the way to get from wherever this ridiculous lost place you, the schlemiel Jewish driver got yourself lost in, how do you get from there to there. From which I inferred the following: that if you know where you want to be, however lost you are, there is a route from here to there. And if that is not a signal of hope, I don’t know what is.
Therefore, the challenge is this. Given the three stories that I’ve told you of different groups of American Jews, the real task of vision-driven leadership in the future is to know exactly where we want to be. If we can agree on that, if we can get clear about that -what are we trying to achieve – then, however lost we are, there’s a route from here to there and believe you me, American Jewry can do. It is one of the most remarkable Jewish communities in history. We, from the other side of the Atlantic, we haven’t quite got over 1776 yet, but we stand in awed admiration of your achievements.
The real task is to know what is the destination? That is the vision-driven leadership, which has characterised Judaism from the very beginning. From the moment that Abraham hears a call, “Lech lecha me’artzecha, umimmoladetecha umibeit avicha el ha’aretz asher ar’eka,” (Bereishit 12:1) to go to this unknown destination, to create a new kind of society – to Moshe Rabbeinu’s vision of the burning bush – we have been a people of visionaries. The real issue is how do we apply that to our current Jewish situation.
I just want to share with you three fundamental principles that we discovered in British Jewry, as we were trying to do this 20 years ago and has now, I think, become a global Jewish history.
Principle one. I don’t know… Do you watch TED Talks on YouTube? There’s a wonderful TED Talk, you’ve probably seen it, by a young man called Simon Sinek who gave this talk and has written a book with the same title. And in it he asks, what makes certain companies – Facebook, Google, Apple – so incredibly successful and others less so?
Apple and Steve jobs were not the first people to create an MP3 player. So why was it that the iPod was such a huge success whereas its predecessors that did the same thing weren’t such successes?
Why is it that some leaders are charismatic and change history and others are not? And what Simon does is he puts up on the board three circles and on the outermost circle, he writes the word “what”, in the middle circle he writes the word “how” and in the centre he writes the word “why”. And he calls his talk and his book, “Start With Why”.
Almost every Jewish continuity proposal ever asked the question “what?” and the question “how?”, but if you want to change the world, don’t start with what and don’t start with how, start with why. And here we have to say something really problematic, challenging.
I have to tell you, remember those figures I gave you a little while ago? 74% said being Jewish is remembering the Holocaust, 69% leading a moral life, 56% social justice, 49% intellectual curiosity and 42% a sense of humour. Let me tell you something. As Whys, those don’t quite work. Why? Because believe it or not you don’t have to be Jewish to remember the Holocaust. In Britain and I’m sure in the States as well, since the year 2000, January the 27th is National Holocaust Memorial day.
The government pays for every school in Britain, every single school, without exception, to send two kids and a teacher to Auschwitz. You don’t have to be Jewish to remember the Holocaust. You don’t have to be Jewish to lead a moral life. You don’t have to be Jewish to care about social justice. You don’t even need to be Jewish to have intellectual curiosity, although in that case it helps! You don’t have to be Jewish to have a sense of humour. Jackie Mason always used to say at the end of his shows, “They laugh at my jokes and then they go out and they say ‘too Jewish’”.
The truth is Jackie Mason, whom I know, once invited Elaine and myself to one of his shows and they gave us the box. It wasn’t quite the Royal Box, I’m sorry, but almost. But we happened to be in the box next to the guy who was doing the lighting and this non-Jewish lighting engineer practically fell out of the box, laughing at Jackie Mason’s jokes!
So none of these things answer the question: Why should I be Jewish? You don’t have to be Jewish to be any of those things. And this was our biggest problem in British Jewry. I have to be blunt with you. Our biggest problem was not building more day schools than never before in British Jewish history. Our difficulty wasn’t persuading the British government to pay for them, which was a nice help when it came. Our biggest problem was asking the question, Why be Jewish? To be Jewish means to be different. Why should I be different? And you know something, we do not have a history of asking that question. For most of Jewish history nobody ever asked: Why be Jewish? Why be Jewish? Because your parents were Jewish. Your grandparents were Jewish. Your Bubbe and Zeide, their Bubbe and Zeide were Jewish.
What choice did you have? That’s who you were. But today, when you can choose to be anything you choose to be, today we have to ask and answer that question.
And the real problem with asking and answering that question is that, classically, there is only one answer, and it goes, “ Asher bachar banu mikol ha’amim” or “Ata bachartanu mikol ha’amim”, “You chose us from all other peoples. You loved us…”
The concept of chosen people. Why be Jewish? Because that’s what we were chosen to be. Now, if there is one phrase you cannot use in polite society nowadays, it’s ‘chosen people’. Have you ever used that phrase in non-Jewish company? You can’t use it. It’s racist, it’s supremacist. It’s every ‘ist’ you can think of. It’s as politically incorrect as it gets. So we had to sit and wrestle and it took us years. How can we get the concept of ‘chosen people’ into people’s minds in a way that is not profoundly offensive to our modern sensibilities as liberal democrats.
And in the end, after at least five years of intellectual searching, we came up with an answer. It is a phrase. I used it in one of my books and I later used it as the title of another book. The phrase: The Dignity of Difference.
I said the Bible begins not with Jews, not with Israel, but with humanity. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Babel and its builders. And it’s only with chapter 12 that God tells Abraham to go and start a new way of serving God. The way I put it was this: Judaism is a protest against empires, against the attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world, and as a protest against the first empires – and the first empires were Abraham’s Mesopotamia and Moses’ Egypt of Rameses the Second, the first empires in all of human history.
Judaism came along and God said to Abraham, “ Go you and be different” to teach humanity the dignity of difference. And if you say ‘everyone is different,’ that’s the truth. Everyone is different, but Jews were the only people who throughout history stood firm on the principle of the right to be different, the duty to be different, the dignity of difference.
We were the only people who throughout history refused to convert to the dominant religion or assimilate to the dominant culture, but why? To teach humanity the dignity of difference. In technical language, we universalised particularity. It was a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking about Jewish identity that was incredibly inclusive.
Because I didn’t know whether it would work, I road-tested it. Every year, Elaine and I give a reception and we do a study session with the leaders of the National Union of Students. You know, there’s a lot of anti-Israel activity on British campuses. And we want to have students – that is non-Jewish students – on our side. So each year we make a special fuss and we cultivate the leadership of the National Union of Students. Almost none of whom are ever Jewish. We sit and befriend them, we give them a reception and learn with them.
For two years in a row I tested out on them, non Jews, all of them the concept of ‘dignity of difference’. And I watched the impact of that phrase on that group. Some of them were Muslim, some Hindu, some Sikh, some from the Caribbean, all sorts of colours and ethnicities and I saw them listening to that session and walking out of the room an inch taller, and you could kind of see what they were saying to themselves, ‘We always knew we were different, but until now we thought that was a bad thing.
And here’s the Chief Rabbi telling us it’s a good thing.’ And believe it or not the non-Jewish students took a sentence out of my book, The Dignity of Difference, wrote it on a plaque. And if you go today to the Students Union in London University on the outside wall by the front door, there is a plaque with that quote from The Dignity of Difference, in my name.
In other words, we found a way of making being different acceptable in the language of today. We had to do that or I believe we would never have been able to answer the question, why be Jewish? It’s not in itself an answer, but it was a necessary precondition of an answer. And that’s what we did.
The second thing we did was quite interesting. And it happened almost by accident. As a Rabbi, for the first three years, I ran around all the synagogues in Britain. After three years, I said to Elaine, “I’ve now met all the Jews who come to synagogue. How do I meet the Jews who never come to synagogue?” This was an interesting question. And we solved it actually in a quite creative way. You wouldn’t believe this but in Britain where they don’t really go in for breakfast television, but they go in for breakfast radio in a very big way. And in Britain, it’s a curious legacy from the origins of the BBC, there is a pause for religious reflection in the middle of the morning news programme. It’s called ‘Thought for the Day’. And it is the weirdest thing imaginable. You’re just getting up, bouncing up full of the joys of spring and somebody starts giving you a sermon. It appeals to all my sadistic instincts, but I started doing this, and I started doing broadcasting for the BBC. And I found I was reaching the 5 million key opinion-formers in Britain you reach every time you do one of those things.
So we started broadcasting and odd things began to happen. For instance, a Jew who never went to synagogue would come into his office one morning and the non-Jew at the office next to him would say to him. “I heard your Chief Rabbi on the radio this morning. He was quite good.”
We turned the whole of Britain into an outreach organisation for the Jewish community! It was weird. In 1991, when I became Chief Rabbi, the BBC came to me because I’d already done a bit of broadcasting before and they said to me the most extraordinary thing, I still can hardly believe it happened, but it did for 22 years.
They said to me, “Because we have a Queen and we have an Archbishop of Canterbury, they each give a message to the nation. So the Queen gives a message to the nation on the 25th of December, the Archbishop of Canterbury just after midnight on January, the first day…” they said to me, “ Would you like to give a message to the nation just before the Jewish New Year?”
And go figure… Jews are less than one half of 1% of the population of Britain, but they’re offering a message to the nation. So I said of course I’d love to do it. So we began in 1991 on equal terms – 10 minutes, auto-queue, face the camera – incredibly boring, even more than shul, and each year the BBC challenged me to do something a little outside the box, and we got more and more interesting. And by about 10 years into this, the Queen was getting eight minutes, the Archbishop of Canterbury five, and I was getting 30. And that’s actually what we continued to do, all until last year. And of course, I wrote a regular column for one of our newspapers called The Times. And eight of my books were serialised in the National Press, because those books were written for non-Jews as well as Jews.
The end result was – and it cost us nothing – we were able to take a Jewish voice into the public domain. And this was not a voice complaining about antisemitism or the isolation of Israel, all the other usual Jewish voices. This was a voice saying, “Look, there is a Jewish voice and it has a role to play in the national conversation. And it’s a voice that speaks to the moral, political, social, intellectual, and spiritual challenges of our time.” And thanks to the BBC, we got free advertising and it was absolutely incredible.
But what we really, really did, was to have that point in the wider culture where Jews were able to walk a little taller because we went into the public arena with a Jewish message for the world. And if the world found it relevant, then maybe Jews would. It’s always easier to persuade non-Jews. I don’t know if you remember, there’s one prophet in the Bible who was sent to non-Jews. Anyone remember who that was? Jonah. How many words did Jonah say? Five. “Od arbaim yom veNineveh nehpachet”. “In 40 days, Nineveh will be destroyed.” He says five words. Everyone in Nineveh repents immediately! All the prophets who spoke to Jews spend their whole lives talking, nobody ever listened. So it’s always easier with a non-Jew. But at any rate, when it works with the non-Jews, it has a feedback effect on Jews and you begin to build a Jewish message out there in the public domain and it cost nothing.
And finally, three. Do you know what? I’d be much better singing this one. But I will just add this number three, the third element. Any Jewish vision of the future has to connect with Israel. I think this is our greatest resource for vision-driven leadership. And the reason is very simple, because here you come to Israel and you see what identity is really about. Identity is not living a nice life in a suburb and doing religious rituals. Identity here means being part of a landscape, part of a history, part of a global people. And it also speaks to the issues of today that young people are interested in.
I believe that if I were to ask you, “What are the five big problems humanity faces in the 21st century?” Anyone offer? What are the big problems of the 21st century? Climate change; the growing gap between first-world and third-world economies; in America now and Britain, asylum seekers; terror; and in the wake of the Arab Spring, how to bring democracy to the parts of the world that are not used to democracy. Look at all those five things and really begin to understand where Israel stands.
Number one: Israel was the first country in the world to re-afforest instead of de-afforest. The first things Jews did was plant trees. Israel is the only country in the world that had more trees at the end of the 20th century than it had at the beginning of the 20th century. It led the world before people had ever heard of climate change.
Number two: first world, third-world economies. Israel is the supreme example in the world of a third-world economy that became a first-world economy.
I tell this story, I think every Shabbat, of my meeting the first Beijing-appointed Chief Executive of Hong Kong after the Brits had to give it back to China in ’97, Mr. Tung Chee-Hwa, who was saying how much he admires Jews and how much he admires Judaism and how much he admires Israel, and he wants to go to Israel to learn how to establish a high-tech economy in Hong Kong. Just reflect on that. I came back, I went straight to the Israeli Ambassador, “Kvod HaShagrir, I want you to send a little message to,” as he was then Rosh Hamemshalah, Mr Shimon Peres, I said, “Shimon Peres has always dreamed that one day Israel would be the Hong Kong of the Middle East. Today, Hong Kong dreams that one day it’ll be the Israel of the Far East.” Israel leads the world in turning a third-world economy into a first-world economy.
As far as asylum seekers, there are only two countries in the world entirely comprised of asylum seekers: the United States of America and Israel. It took Jews from 103 different countries, speaking 82 different languages – most of them all at once – and managed to make one nation out of them. It is the only country that has developed effective mechanisms against terror. And as for bringing democracy to the part of the world that never knew it, Israel is not just a democracy, but a hyper-democracy. This is our symbol of the values that we stand for. In any country, they would be remarkable, but in a country with the history of Israel, called into being a mere three years after the Jewish peoples stood eyeball-to-eyeball with the Angel of Death at Auschwitz, it is a triumph of hope over adversity that is simply beyond belief.
And with that, I come to my “Why?”. Why be Jewish? Because Judaism and Jews represent the voice of hope in the conversation of humankind. Western civilisation was built on the basis of two great ancient civilisations: Ancient Greece, Ancient Israel, Athens, and Jerusalem. And they were very different cultures. Athens gave us Aeschylus, Sophocles, the greatest writers of tragedy until Shakespeare and perhaps in all of history. Judaism never gave rise to an Aeschylus or a Sophocles. You would have thought that after all the tears of Jewish history, Hebrew would have a word for tragedy. Does it? No. Why? Because Judaism is the principled rejection of tragedy in the name of hope.
And I tell you that the Jewish people and the State of Israel represent living symbols of hope to the whole of humankind. Therefore, if anyone asks you what difference hope makes, show them Israel, show them how Jews manage by their faith – if not in God, then at least in life itself – and the eternity of the Jewish people, driven by that faith, they were able to take a barren land and make it bloom again, take an ancient language, Hebrew, the language of the Bible and make it speak again, and take a scattered, shattered people and make it live again. Jews kept hope alive and hope kept the Jewish people alive. And in a sometimes dark and difficult world, we are called on to be humanity’s agents of hope. Friends, this is what Israel is, this is what the Jewish people is. This is why be Jewish.
And I finally end standing here in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh simply with one of my favourite stories. I heard it from Elie Wiesel. Elie Wiesel once pointed out that there was a time when Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl lived in the same street in Vienna. He said, “Luckily, they never met.” He said, “Can you imagine what would have happened if they had met?” Theodor Herzl would have said, “I have this dream of a Jewish state.” Sigmund Freud would say, “Herr Herzl, so tell me, how long have you been having this dream? Lie down on my couch. I will analyse you,” and Herzl would have been cured of his dreams and there would be today, no Medinat Yisrael, Baruch HaShem, we are the people who were never cured of our dreams. Let us have the courage to dream and the courage to make that dream come true.