Ambassador Danny Ayalon Reflects on His Experience Teaching at Yeshiva University
In 2003, while still serving as the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, I was privileged to attend the investiture ceremony of Richard Joel as president of Yeshiva University. Since then, I have served as co-chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, and a member of the Israeli Knesset. Ten years ago, I would never have imagined that I would one day return to YU to join President Joel and the university’s illustrious faculty as the Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies, a title of which I am most proud.
The decision to make the transition from practitioner to educator was a difficult one. As a student, my education had been largely one-dimensional and left me with a negative impression of the system as a whole. As I remember it, the students listened and the teachers taught, nothing more. In stark contrast, my time at Yeshiva University has proven to be exhilarating and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
Yeshiva University has a strong reputation as a center of academic excellence, so the scholastic commitment of both the students and staff came as no surprise. Still, the level of intellectual and emotional dedication shown by my students has inspired me profoundly and allowed me to see “old issues” from fresh perspectives.
In a very real sense, my students have become partners in my work, consistently challenging me to dig deeper. They are smart, engaged and motivated to achieve, but most importantly, they care about the subject matter and invest heavily in our academic relationship.
But I have realized that this is not simply an academic experience, neither for me nor my students. Yeshiva University’s primary mission is to train and develop future Jewish leaders.
Though I assumed my foray into the academic world would be nothing more than a short “sabbatical,” this pursuit of excellence and desire to lead has reenergized me and renewed my desire to serve in the public sphere.
Throughout my career path, I have often been reminded of the importance of the Iron Dome. This past summer, we all became much too familiar with this missile defensive system employed by the Israel Defense Forces. As Operation Protective Edge dragged on, the Iron Dome played an integral role in keeping Israel’s citizens safe from countless indiscriminate rocket attacks. The key to this successful defense system is that it was designed to act proactively, to intercept and destroy incoming rockets before they could land and cause harm.
As an ambassador, I witnessed the grand scale attacks we faced on the political front, which were often more brutal than those faced on the battlefield. It was for this reason that I decided to create a “political Iron Dome,” a defense system to proactively fight the propaganda war being waged against us, and level the playing field. My informational videos series, titled “The Truth About Israel,” arms people with the facts needed to shoot down the indiscriminate libelous claims continuously targeting Israel.
My tenure at Yeshiva University has revealed a new, fitting application of the Iron Dome analogy.
Though many decry the future of our society, calling the abilities and contributions of the current generation into question, I no longer stand with them. I don’t fear for the future of our people because I believe that Yeshiva University has created an “Iron Dome” of Jewish leadership, arming a generation of dedicated and motivated young men and women with the skills and information they need to tackle any religious, societal, or communal challenge that lies ahead.
When I look at my students, the fire in their eyes reassures me that our Jewish future is, indeed, bright. Though I will be spending several months tending to my public service mission, I look forward to returning to Yeshiva University next spring semester for what I am confident will be another truly enriching experience.
Ambassador Danny Ayalon is the Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies at Yeshiva University. This op-ed originally appeared in The New York Jewish Week.