Land of My Birth – When Israel was established, it was necessary to set up a diplomatic organization including ambassadors who would represent the new country all over the world. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had its doubts about how the newly opened Israeli embassies should conduct themselves in contacts with the local Jewish populations. Some people went so far as to say that the embassy and the local Jews should be completely separate, since the local population was committed to supporting their countries and the people should not be identified with Israel. However, the first Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett, had strong ideas about this matter. He made sure to include the following sentence in the credentials of the new ambassadors: “You will not only represent us to the friendly nation, you will also be a representative to the Jewish people in the country.”
Yaakov Tzur was sent to Uruguay as one of the first Israeli ambassadors in the world. Here is what he wrote:
“The ship approached the coastline… Suddenly, I saw a vision that will always remain in our hearts. The entire area of the port was filled with people. They stood packed together, holding flags… I saw heads, a sea of heads, young and old, women and children. How many were there? Perhaps ten thousand, perhaps twenty thousand. It seemed as if not a single Jew had remained home in Montevideo. Thousands of hands were stretched out towards us, touching each and every one of us, surrounding us, crying, calling out in Yiddish and Spanish, shouts of ‘Viva’ and ‘Heidad’… From corners of the pier we could hear Tehillim being recited in a weeping voice: ‘When G-d brings the captives of Zion back’ [126:1]; ‘Halleluya!’… The sound of ‘Hatikvah’ sprung up from thousands of mouths in an Ashkenazi accent, and using the old text: ‘To return to the land of our fathers’…”
The local Jewish newspaper printed a large banner headline, stating that for the first time in two thousand years an Israeli representative had arrived in Uruguay. It did not matter at all that Uruguay had not existed for more than 150 years… The new ambassador Yaacov Tzur was astonished by the emotional and rousing greeting. After all, he and his staff had arrived as strangers in a foreign land, without knowing any of the local people. And they discovered that the Israeli embassy took on a messianic role, as a center of glory, admiration, and love for the State of Israel. At the time, the young nation was deeply involved in recovering from the wounds of the War of Independence and in a struggle to stabilize its shaky economy. But here, at the other end of the world, it was clear that Jews all over the world felt the arrival of a new era.
In fact, the main activity of the new embassy was centered on enhancing the relationship with the local Jewish community. The earlier disputes about what the relationship should be between the ambassador and the local Jews now appeared to be nothing more than academic. On the first Shabbat, the staff of the embassy went to the Ashkenazi synagogue. Yaacov Tzur continued his description of the events:
“In order to maintain balance, we prayed in the Sephardi synagogue on the second Shabbat. Our staff included Yitzchak Navon (who later became the President of Israel). He did an outstanding job by leading the prayers in his pleasant voice, singing some of the Sephardi tunes of Jerusalem. Most of the Jews here are not religious, and the synagogue is usually empty, but on the Shabbat that we were there a great crowd came. Once again, we witnessed excitement, tears, and embracing. The children touched our clothing as they would touch a Torah scroll… The prayer for the government ‘Hanoten Teshua’ was recited, but this time not for the Gentile Caesar but rather for the government of Israel…”
Today everything about the activities of an ambassador appears as the natural way to act, but the truth is that until very recently there was no Jewish government. We should be very happy that we have finally reached this point.
Source: Yaacov Tzur, “Diplomatic Credentials – Number 4: Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.