This past Monday and Tuesday, over 1,000 student from around Israel gathered in one of the largest towns in Judea at the World Zionist Youth Congress. The subject of this years gathering was Jewish strength and bravery. Ironically, in the heart of the Jewish homeland, where Jewish nationality was born, the Education Ministry faced criticism for holding the event in Judea, which is across the green line.
The congress was held in the regional council of Gush Etzion, a region immediately south of Jerusalem. With its picturesque rolling hills adorned with grape arbors and olive groves, and brimming with biblical and modern history, in a nod to past, present and future, the region’s largest modern community continues to bear that same name. For millennia, the main road through Gush Etzion passes near Bethlehem, which in Biblical times was called Efrat (Genesis 48:7). The biblical city of Hebron lies just south of the area.
Ma’ariv reported that Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron defended the decision of the ministry to hold the event in the biblical heartland. “I believe that there is a national consensus that the area of Gush Etzion belongs to all of us. I believe that we can hold serious discussions on important topics such as these,” Piron said.
“We should not be labelling everything as a right wing or left wing issue, but rather engaging in serious dialogue about these topics. This is one of the important dialogues to have, and it is an exceptional challenge that we all face in the education ministry.”
Minister Piron further explained, “We need to learn to be present in all areas under Israeli control, and Gush Etzion is one of those places.”
In an address that opened the annual meeting, Piron told the students gathered, “If you do not clearly understand that you are the direct continuation of the Biblical tradition of our forefathers, then you cannot fully grasp what it is that you are doing here. At times, due to all the craziness and propaganda from the rest of the world, we can lose sight of the fact that we are Zionists, that we love this country, and that this is our land. And we are here out of a deep emphatic sense of connection with our land.”
In response to Piron’s comments, Local Council head Rabbi Davidi Perel called upon the minister to encourage students visits to Hebron and Gush Etzion.
“I call upon the Minister of Education to act as his predecessor Gideon Sa’ar did, and bring students from all over Israel to come and visit Hebron, and while they are on the way to stop by Gush Etzion as well,” Perel said.
Perel spoke about the “incredibly important” efforts to bring students to Judea and Samaria “in order that they understand the heritage of these places, and their importance for the Jewish people.” Places like Gush Etzion and Hebron, which Perel called the “foundation stones and cradle of the Jewish nation,” are symbols of “Jewish strength” and symbolize “Jewish bravery.”
“Anyone who refuses to come to the heartland of Israel for ideological reasons, in my opinion is not a realist,” he added.
Yaalov Hagoel, head of the World Zionist Organization’s Department for Countering Anti-Semitism, told students that the efforts to bring students together from all over Israel was to create a dialogue about the future of Zionism.
“We are working together to bring students from all over Israel and all across the social and political spectrum’s, from different nationalities, to a dialogue that is all about Zionism. Over 1,000 students are participating this year, and they are voting with their feet to come and take part in this dialogue. We can rest assured that Zionism is alive and well among the next generation,” Hagoel said.