Natan Sharansky speaks at the Babi Yar ravine 370.
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
KIEV – The Jewish Agency has been involved in talks with the Prime Minister’s
Office about upgrading cooperation with Diaspora communities, chairman Natan
Sharansky announced on Sunday at the triannual meeting of the organization’s
Board of Governors.
As part of the agency’s new focus on promoting Jewish
identification among Diaspora Jews, Sharansky said that his discussions with the
Prime Minister’s Office centered on “areas of special importance to both
The quasi-governmental organization would like to coordinate its
efforts with Netanyahu on issues relating to youth aliya, providing Diaspora
Jews with “Israeli experiences,” promoting “Israeli and Jewish education in
communities abroad” and outreach work on university campuses.
stated that he wished to see “hundreds of campuses around the world engaged with
In furtherance of this cause, Sharansky said, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu has met with “potential donors” who could fund the proposed
initiatives, which the agency is developing with its
According to Sharansky, Israel’s government will be
“broadening” its involvement in these matters, including “bringing more Jews to
Israel” on various long and shortterm programs. Such activities could serve as
the basis of programs encouraging the aliya of “young professionals,” which will
be the “center of activity in months to come,” he said.
However, the new
focus on stemming assimilation and promoting Jewish and Zionist identity does
not negate the agency’s core mission of promoting immigration, said Danny Lamm,
the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
chair of the board’s Aliya and Rescue Committee, addressed board members, saying
that contrary to what has been reported by some in the press, “aliya is not
dead” and it continues to be a “critical focus.” However, he continued, the
“game has changed.”
While the Jewish Agency stands ready to facilitate
mass aliya, that is the not the biggest issue on the organization’s plate right
now, he asserted, having previously noted that “Ethiopian aliya is coming to a
“If there is a crisis and people have to be brought [to
Israel] we’ll do what has to be done but in the meantime we are trying to
attract the best of the youth around the world to strengthen ties between the
Diaspora and Israel,” he said.
Along those lines, Roman Polonsky, the
director of the agency’s unit for Russianspeaking Jews, told a committee meeting
that it is “only natural that we decided in our unit and in this region to unite
the department of aliya with the department of Israel
Immigration from the former Soviet Union, he noted, still
accounts for “half of worldwide aliya.”
Immigrant Absorption Minister
Sofa Landver, speaking after Sharansky at the opening session of the three-day
meeting, also stated that the administration is “strengthening the connection
between the Jewish Agency and the government.”
Her remarks come only
months after her recently resigned director-general Dmitry Aparzev made a public
call for the agency to “return the keys” of aliya to his ministry.
give the [Jewish Agency] the mandate to take care of a national issue – aliya –
and instead it decides to invest in a different area,” Aparzev said in April,
referring to the agency’s shift away from its traditional focus on facilitating
large-scale immigration in favor of programs to maintain Jewish identity among
Jews living outside of Israel.
Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Bleich also
sounded off on the agency’s focus. He told delegates from around the world that
despite promotion of aliya being a matter of priority, he is “not looking to
grow [the numbers] back” to what they were before the end of the first mass
waves of aliya after the fall of Communism, but rather is looking to promote
“strong Jewish identity.”
Bleich expressed appreciation for world Jewry’s
support for the Jews of the FSU, telling delegates that he thanked them “from
the bottom of my heart, for coming to visit Ukraine.”
“That the Jewish
Agency’s Board of Governors – people who are active in helping our community –
has come to visit our local Jewish community is of the utmost importance for us.
We hope it will be as important for you to be here as it is for us to have you