Why celebrate David Ben-Gurion Day in the USA?


Doug Seserman | Special to the JT

“Who is David Ben-Gurion”? If you had asked me this question as a kid, I would have answered that he was Israel’s founding father and first prime minister. Ask me today, and I’d tell you that he is one of the most important Jews of all time.


Growing up like many American Jews in my generation, I attended weekly Hebrew school, Jewish summer camp and youth groups to connect with my Jewish heritage. I knew who David Ben-Gurion was and his role in developing the State of Israel, but didn’t really grasp his real significance.

That’s something I only came to understand as an adult when I started traveling to Israel. It was during a visit to his burial site in the Negev Desert that I first experienced his true impact. The more I traveled and learned about him, the more his vision, values and Zionist ideals resonated with me. I eventually realized that he is so much more than a significant historical figure; his vision can inform Israel’s trajectory even to this day. His legacy, along with the values he stood for, can offer a fresh take on 21st-century Zionism. And we have a duty to honor them.

That’s why this year on Wednesday, Nov. 30, on David Ben-Gurion’s yahrzeit (anniversary of his passing), Americans for Ben-Gurion University will be leading the first-ever Ben-Gurion Day in the USA celebration. Though Ben-Gurion Day is celebrated annually in Israel, the important day is virtually unknown in the United States. We’re calling on all American Jews to mark this inaugural virtual celebration with us, which will bring to the United States Ben-Gurion’s dream for Israel, and in particular, the Negev, to be the source for the solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Ben-Gurion shared this vision and dream of Israel as not just a necessity for Jewish survival but to fulfill our role as a people serving as “a light unto the nations.” While this dream may have dimmed among Diaspora Jews, it still exists.

Just look at the Negev, where Ben-Gurion saw Israel’s future in the hostile desert and where his namesake university — and its wider academic and scientific ecosystem — is located. In recent decades, Israel has become a leader in water conservation in a world increasingly plagued by drought; it has been a pioneer in climate-change adaptation; and it is a global center for renewable energy research and investment in technologies that may save our planet.

David Ben-Gurion has been gone for nearly 50 years, but the challenges and opportunities he talked about in the past are as relevant today as they ever have been.
Solving some of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced requires a movement to make change.

And especially at a time when the younger generation of American Jews seems to be increasingly disengaged from the Zionist movement, it’s more important than ever to recognize and honor the amazing contributions of Israel’s past and present for a reimagined 21st-century Zionism.

We can start by celebrating Ben-Gurion Day in the USA. Will you join me?

Doug Seserman is CEO of Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU).

To showcase Ben-Gurion’s inspirational Zionist mission from within the Diaspora, Americans for Ben-Gurion University will host Ben-Gurion Day in the USA. Virtual attendees will tour the recently opened Ben-Gurion archives at Ben-Gurion University and discover how the ideas of Israel’s founder have become modern reality. For more information or to register for the first-ever U.S.-based celebration of David Ben-Gurion, visit: BenGurionDayUSA.org.

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