By Sandy Cardin
I wish I could have been there in person. I wish you could have been there in person. In fact, I wish every Jew in the world could have been there in person.
But, alas, in these dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us had to participate via video, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and co-founder of Genesis Philanthropy Group, businessman, Mikhail Fridman.
Over the course of the past few days, an unprecedented demonstration of Jewish unity and peoplehood took place in Jerusalem. It was supposed to be a huge, public celebration of the completion of the Declaration of Our Common Destiny. It was supposed to be the defining Jewish event of the year. It was supposed to be a moment I would look over at Genesis Philanthropy Group long-time leader Ilia Salita, z”l, and see him smiling from ear to ear as he watched his hard work realized.
And, although it was none of those things, it was still an uplifting and inspiring series of events that marked a new chapter in the eternal story of the Jewish people.
It began with the projection on the walls of the Old City of hundreds of photographs and blessings of Jews of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. Watching the images and words flow down the ancient stones left many too moved to speak. Fortunately, Alternate Prime Minster and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Minister of Diaspora Affairs Omer Yankelevich, Knesset Member Naftali Bennett, and Mayor Moshe Lion of Jerusalem found the words to express their commitment to the entirety of the Jewish people, and to the fulfillment of the deeply held values shared by all Jews despite differing religious practices, nationalities, cultural identities and political affiliations.
One by one, they stepped to the podium and gave their support to the Declaration of Our Common Destiny, a document to which more than 100 Jewish organizations and 125,000 Jews from all over the world contributed their thoughts during the past year.
The Declaration arose from a forum of Jewish leaders and thinkers from across the Jewish world through the initiative called Our Common Destiny, which the Genesis Philanthropy Group launched in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, under the auspices of the Office of the President of Israel. Our goal was admittedly audacious: to unite the Jewish people worldwide as never before, at a time of deepening division and separation, even as rising antisemitism threatened us all.
Out of a love and concern for the entirety of the Jewish people and for the State of Israel, we are committed to ensuring that global Jewry remains strong and united, bound together in the future as in the past, by all that connects us. We are also dedicated to making sure every Jew is respected and valued as a member of our community, empowered to take part in the building of our collective future.
Last year, Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, hailed the Declaration and said it held the promise of becoming a “roadmap for the Jewish future.” Inspired by his guidance, we set out to chart a new path: to crowdsource the document, surveying Jews everywhere about how they prioritized core values and to contribute to this collaborative text.
We recognized the historic challenges of trying to unite the Jewish people, who live by the tradition of Talmudic dispute and the old saying, “two Jews, three opinions.” What we couldn’t know is that only a few months later a global pandemic would bring the world to a near halt.
Yet our strategy to crowdsource the Declaration, through online input and surveys, proved perhaps the ideal route to connect all Jews at a time when we were physically dispersed – not only by nationality, politics or religion – but by a novel virus.
We also had no way of knowing we would lose two of our beloved, guiding lights: Ilia Salita, President and CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group, and Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a member of our international Advisory Board.
Throughout these trying times, hundreds of thousands engaged with the Declaration in person and online, sharing their impressions, bringing their singular Jewish experiences and providing insights from across all national, religious, and cultural identities. These Jews from across the globe made the Declaration a living document, whether they took our survey in English, Hebrew, French, German, Russian or Spanish. By creating a framework reflecting such breadth and depth, we are confident the Declaration will indeed shape how the Jewish people relate, empower, and engage with one another — now and for generations to come.
Which brings me back to these inspiring events this week in Jerusalem. Recalling the challenges of this past year, seeing the prime minister participating from quarantine due to the pandemic, and knowing Mikhail and so many of us could not travel to Jerusalem to join in, ultimately seemed bittersweet.
And yet, here we were, celebrating a potentially historic moment. As President Rivlin endorsed the Declaration, we shared a beautiful virtual gathering with musical stars like Idan Raichel and Jess Glynn, and film star Shira Haas of “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox.” The Declaration reflected a “dialogue that’s based upon mutual respect, good will and the search for common ground and common destiny,” said President Rivlin.
Our events this week were a fitting conclusion to a remarkable, yearlong journey to connect Jews everywhere. And, even more importantly, they mark the beginning of the shaping of a new covenant for all Jews, one in which every Jew has a voice and is part of building our collective future.
That is our common destiny.
Sanford (Sandy) Cardin is CEO of Our Common Destiny.