Last Thursday in Washington DC, Shimon Peres launched his campaign to change the way in which North American Jews donate to Israel. Addressing 150 leading Jewish - American donors, members of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) Prime Ministers Council, Peres called on those assembled to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years, dedicated to developing Israel's scientific establishment, including a national nanotechnology research center.
At present, most of the donations made by the North American Jewish community go towards social welfare in Israel, reinforcing the Diaspora Jewish community, and the support of aged, infirm and indigent Jews in North America. The lion's share of those funds is channeled through UJC, an umbrella organization representing 156 Jewish Federations and 400 independent communities across North America. A minority of funds raised is controlled by other Israeli and American organizations.
Peres told the assembled donors that the next challenge facing Israel was to become a nation of science, and the challenge facing US Jews was to assist Israel in that endeavor. In his opinion, Israel has already met most of the challenges facing it since the establishment of the state, from ingathering the exiles and reviving Hebrew as a living language, on through agricultural development, to building up its military might and protecting its borders. Peres said that the latter stage was not yet complete but noted that agriculture could no longer ensure Israel's economic future, nor could the army ensure Israel diplomatic future.
Peres said his vision for Israel's future was rooted in science, and that Jews the world over would play a part. For North American Jewry, this would mean a shift in direction for UJC. According to Peres, Israel would become a scientific center, disseminating - among other things - the message of nanotechnology to the world. This would help in changing Israel's image from a country in need, victimized by terror, and would inspire young Jews from all over the Western World, reinforcing the link between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry.
Peres also told the World Nano-Economic Congress in Washington DC that there were currently 14 nanotechnology companies operating in Israel, employing 180 researchers. Peres said the field was close to his heart and that he tried to promote it at every opportunity.
There is no guarantee that the North American Jewish establishment will embrace the goals set by Peres. Jewish Baby Boomers are beginning to enter their golden years, and many will require financial support from their communities. A plea for donations to build up Israel's scientific infrastructure would cut into those budgets, but it is clear that Peres has taken a first step in Washington.
Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on 14 September 2003