Jewish Agency chair Doron Almog hopes to win the hearts of all Jews

No. 25 on The Jerusalem Post's Top 50 Most Influential Jews of 2022: Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Doron Almog.

 Jewish Agency chairman Doron Almog. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Jewish Agency chairman Doron Almog.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Doron Almog is chairman of the Jewish Agency, one of the most powerful and central Jewish organizations historically.

Almog is the founder and chairman of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village (formerly ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran), which provides residential, medical and social services to the disabled.

He previously served in the IDF as OC Southern Command and was in charge of securing the border with the Gaza Strip. In his first speech after being approved by the agency’s board, Almog mentioned that he was “the first soldier to land in Entebbe, where we rescued 105 hostages in Operation Entebbe.” For many Diaspora Jews, Almog’s personal story can be fascinating and can connect them to Israel.

For years he worked in the field of tikkun olam, a topic that is important for many young progressive Diaspora Jews. For the older millennials and the older generations, his participation in Operation Entebbe is considered heroic and exciting. 

AFTER HIS first month on the job at the Jewish Agency, Almog spoke to The Jerusalem Post in his first interview in English.

 Doron Almog, head of the Prime Minister's Office directorate for economic and community development of the Negev Bedouin, during a discussion regarding a bill regulating the bedouin settlements, December 23, 2013. (credit: FLASH90) Doron Almog, head of the Prime Minister's Office directorate for economic and community development of the Negev Bedouin, during a discussion regarding a bill regulating the bedouin settlements, December 23, 2013. (credit: FLASH90)

“Leading the agency is a different type of challenge, [different from any challenge] I have ever dealt with,” he said at the beginning of the conversation. 

“I am mobilizing, with all my might, all of my time and energy for the Jewish people.”

“I am mobilizing, with all my might, all of my time and energy for the Jewish people.”

Doron Almog

No Jew left behind

According to Almog, his goal is to “bring all of the Jewish hearts together.”

The challenge, as Almog portrayed it, is “not to have any Jews left behind; to reach every family that is part of the 165 Jewish communities around the world. We must not lose one, two or three million [to assimilation].”

He mentioned Ariel Muzicant, who serves as president of the European Jewish Congress. “He told me that there were three million Jews [living in Europe] after the Holocaust, and that there are only about a million and a half Jews living in the continent today.” According to Almog, “Muzicant explained that there will almost be no Jews in Europe if this trend continues.”

Almog has always been a leader who tried to unify different groups. “Our challenge is to reconnect an entire nation,” he said dramatically.

He shared that he hopes the theme for next year’s activities in Israel will be “a national effort to strengthen the relationship between Israel and all the Diaspora communities.”

Almog said that he will strive for the reality that on Independence Day “there will be 165 screens in all 165 Jewish communities, where they will watch the torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.”

Another idea is to have Israeli schools learn about Jewish Diaspora life.

“They need to learn the importance of us being one people,” he said of Israeli students. 

He asserted that he would continue with all of the agency’s core tasks and projects, such as the Masa Israel long-term Israel programs, aliyah and absorption centers.

“This year is a year of great immigration, partly because of the war in Ukraine,” he said. He asked not to discuss the legal aspect of the status of the Jewish Agency in Russia – that is now being discussed in Russian courts.

“We’re approaching 40,000 olim [from Ukraine and Russia], and I hope we will reach 60,000,” he said. 

Almog gave a first glimpse into a planned program whose goal is to connect Diaspora and Israeli Jews.

“There are IDF officers and Israeli security personnel stationed abroad in study or training programs, but they are not connected to Jewish communities,” he said. “We will train them in Jerusalem, and will then connect them to a Jewish family in the city they are now living in around the world. The goal is to connect to a Jewish family in order to be connected to each other; not in order to change them, but to learn about their lifestyle and to become a kind of family. They should have Shabbat meals together and hopefully stay connected after they return to Israel.”

Almog said that he plans the same type of program for Israeli academics or tech managers. 

Asked if he has a sufficient budget for all his new and exciting ideas, especially since the agency has been downsizing in the past few years, Almog said, “We’ll definitely need more budgets from the new government, but we will also raise funds abroad, beyond what is regularly raised yearly.

“The issue of tikkun olam will be a central one in my work,” he continued. “What firstly comes from our Jewish identity is ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ The thing is, this ideal is expressed in moments of solidarity and crisis, but we need to make sure that it is also expressed in moments of peace.”

The agency was at the forefront of saving Ukrainian Jews and assisting those who wanted to make aliyah. Almog has to now continue the leadership of this extremely important and strategic cause.

“Beginning February 24, the agency turned in an exceptional performance in five countries as a result of the war,” he said. 

Almog is aware of the fact that there were dozens of candidates for his role and that the process took more than a year, since none of them received a consensus vote.

“I am the first elected nonpolitical chairman,” he said. “The agency is the most significant executive body of the Jewish people and Israel.”

Precisely in a period of polarization – the upcoming fifth election in less than four years, harsh statements by the political parties; a sense of rivalry that arises from political processes – he sees great value in action that does not come from politics but for its own sake.

“The agency isn’t supposed to be a political body, but indeed it is influenced by politics and works hand in hand with politics. The actions we take [regarding political connections] should be considered according to what our goal is in every specific move or project.”

Asked how he will know that he has succeeded in his current role, Almog said, “If we are successful in connecting more and more Jews all around the world, I will know that we have succeeded. I would like to see a close relationship with the Jewish communities, that the relations between the State of Israel and the Diaspora have tightened.

“I am honored to lead the Jewish Agency together with Mark Wilf, the chairman of the board. I admire his leadership, professional experience and the values he brings with him.”