An interview with Natan Sharansky.

from The Jerusalem Post:

Freedom and identity

Doesn’t teaching about Jewish identity differ depending on the country you’re talking to – whether it be the US, France, Russia, or even Israel?

Yes. In different countries, the way in which Jews got to the point they are at is very different. In Russia, it was absolute, total forced assimilation. As a result, the way to come back is to reconnect them to a basic knowledge of Judaism.

On the other hand, in America, the best way to fuel their Jewish identity is programs like Birthright or Masa or Lapid (the university and high-school study-in-Israel programs), or any other type of Israel experience.

In France, it’s strengthening the system of Zionist Jewish education, and so on.

But what is important that runs through every community is that strengthening Jewish identity is practically impossible without putting Israel in the center.

And no doubt, there is a big need to strengthen Jewish identity in Israel. It’s interesting that Israelis who are involved in Partnership 2000 – the programs led by the Jewish Agency in which communities from abroad, mostly America, partner with Israeli communities – discover for themselves, for the first time, their Jewish dimensions which had been dormant for a long time. They didn’t even suspect that it was there; and these include the leaders of the programs.

They thought that to be Israeli is to be above being Jewish. A Jew was something that we were for thousands of years; now we are Israelis. We built the Jewish state, we defended the Jewish state, we are speaking Hebrew, we are living here – you can’t be more Jewish than that. But they’ve discovered what Jewish community means.