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B-G Day in the USA reminds Jews of his four tests for the desert

"If the Negev fails to stand, so will Tel Aviv," the founding father said.

U.S. President Harry Truman, Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during a visit to the United States, May 1, 1951. Credit: National Photo Collection of Israel/GPO.
U.S. President Harry Truman, Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during a visit to the United States, May 1, 1951. Credit: National Photo Collection of Israel/GPO.

David Ben-Gurion famously stated, “The people of Israel will be tested in the Negev.”

According to Paula Kabalo—head of the Azrieli Center for Israel Studies as well as Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s (BGU) Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism—the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre makes these words more relevant than ever.

Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, laid out four tests pertaining to the Negev: A test of creative capacity and boldness; a test of the capacity of Jewish science and research; a test for Jewish youth and its pioneering capacity and creative enterprise; and a general test for the people of Israel and their state,

Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, laid out four tests pertaining to the Negev: A test of creative capacity and boldness; a test of the capacity of Jewish science and research; a test for Jewish youth and its pioneering capacity and creative enterprise; and a general test for the people of Israel and their state, she explained.

“Why did all these forces have to be put to the test? It had to do with the peril of concentrating most of the country’s population on a coastal plain of several kilometers wide, between Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa,” Kabalo said. “Such a state, based on territory that lacks strategic depth, is prone to existential danger in the event of a massive attack. This makes the Negev a necessity, not a choice.

“The northwestern Negev—recently coined ‘the envelope of Gaza’—took upon itself to fulfill Ben-Gurion’s vision, and realized it successfully, despite the never-ending security challenges. The communities that thrived there realized Ben-Gurion’s highest expectations of being creative, pioneering, committed, and resilient,” she said.

“Yet following the Oct. 7 massacre, these communities are now uprooted, and some have been devastated in ways that are beyond imagination.

Reconstruction

“Reconstructing those communities, and this part of the Negev as a whole, will have to be defined as a leading national objective—echoing Ben-Gurion’s view that ‘if the Negev fails to stand, so will Tel Aviv,'” asserted Kabalo.

On Nov. 19, Kabalo’s commentary was featured in a webinar hosted by Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU) for the second annual “Ben-Gurion Day in the USA.”

While Ben-Gurion Day is commemorated every year in Israel on the sixth of the Hebrew month Kislev, A4BGU brought it to the U.S. last year for the first time. The initiative aims to rally Americans around a vision for 21st-century Zionism that is shaped by the pioneering spirit of David Ben-Gurion–who turned his dream of a Jewish homeland into reality and saw the Negev as the place where Israel’s innovative future would emerge.

“Ben-Gurion’s vision that the future of Israel is in the Negev—a region which has been disproportionately affected by the Oct. 7 massacre—makes our commemoration of Ben-Gurion Day in the U.S. even more poignant and meaningful,” said Doug Seserman, CEO of A4BGU.

“More so today than ever before, it is imperative that we honor Ben-Gurion’s legacy and keep his dream alive. He turned his dream of a Jewish homeland into reality. Together, we will prevail to keep this vision for the future of Israel alive,” Seserman affirmed.

Kabalo also noted the contemporary significance of Ben-Gurion’s legacy from a security perspective. In Ben-Gurion’s estimation, the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is about “the essence of our existence, the right of the Jewish people to live in this country.” At the same time, Ben-Gurion envisioned that in the long term, Israel’s security would lean not solely on the military.

“His core message was that security leans on the power of the people–referring not only to those who decided to relocate to Israel, but the Jewish Diaspora and communities throughout the world,” Kabalo said. “As such, a major component in Ben-Gurion’s security concept was ‘the Jewish nation,’ as he called it.

“He repeated time and again that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora all have an affinity to one nation, a nation dispersed throughout the world. This had practical implications, as Jewish communities and individuals throughout the world supported the establishment of the Jewish state—in human power and in material giving but also in spirit, affinity, and solidarity.”

She added, “From Ben-Gurion’s perspective, Israel is obliged to strengthen its ties with world Jewry in every possible way—via aliyah, education, personal and community ties and connecting with our heritage.”

Passion for Israel

Ben-Gurion Day in the USA strives to accomplish precisely that objective. This year, more than 100 synagogues, schools, and other Jewish institutions nationwide have joined A4BGU in honoring Ben-Gurion’s timeless values and love and passion for Israel.

A4BGU’s offering of a free “Program in a Box” is designed to engage and inspire American Jewish organizations and communities as they commemorate Ben-Gurion’s legacy. Presented by A4BGU and the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute, the box includes lesson plans, talking points for community leaders and a compilation of Ben-Gurion’s inspirational quotes.

BGU President Professor Daniel Chamovitz believes that Ben-Gurion’s vision presents a blueprint not only for the future of Israel but also for world Jewry’s quest to ensure that Zionism survives and thrives in the 21st century.

“Today, more than ever, we see that there is no other answer for the Jewish people but Zionism,” Chamovitz said. “For us, this means we are already planning for the day after the war, as our mission will be more important than ever.

“The rebuilding of Israel’s resilience will start from the Negev. We will make sure that the Negev blooms in so many ways. That’s why we do what we do every single day. The Ben-Gurion mission, the Ben-Gurion story, is the Zionist story and the story of the future of Israel,” he said.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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