Diaspora project takes flak over funds distribution

The government contributed $22m., to be shared among Chabad on Campus International, Hillel International and Olami for its first project of the Diaspora Ministry initiative.

August 23, 2016 02:55
3 minute read.
An Orthodox Jew prays

An Orthodox Jew prays for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Chabad Shul synagogue in Warsaw January 9, 2006.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Leaders of a new multimillion- dollar Israel-Diaspora initiative have urged the program’s critics not to rush to judgment over funds being disproportionately distributed to Orthodox organizations.

The Mosaic United program was launched earlier this month with three grants to international college campus groups.

The government contributed $22m., to be shared among Chabad on Campus International, Hillel International and Olami for its first project of the Diaspora Ministry initiative.
Each group received more than $7m. to support their ongoing efforts to engage Jewish students.

Partners in the project stressed that this is just the first in a series of projects, and that organizations were selected for their strong presence on campus, not for their ideology.

“For its very first investment, Mosaic United decided to dedicate resources to Hillel, Chabad and Olami, not because of politics or preference for any one approach to Judaism over another, but because these groups already have in place strong global networks and proven track records of success,” Mosaic United CEO Amy Holtz told The Jerusalem Post.

“Putting more resources into effective organizations promoting Jewish identity on campus is the very first in what will be a series of investments in programs designed to connect the Jewish people across continents, denominations and ideologies,” Holtz said. “We are presently in touch with Jewish leaders from across the religious spectrum, and are on a quest to invest in a range of programs that engage, inspire and educate Jews from all backgrounds.”

"The launch of the Campus Pillar is an important step, but it is only the first step in a long journey," the Diaspora Ministry told the Post, emphasizing the diverse makeup of the Mosaic United steering committee."Mosaic United's professional staff conducted a thorough process, after which they selected the groups leading Jewish educational efforts on hundreds of campuses around the world."

A source familiar with Jewish campus programs said, “I think it’s a no-brainer as to why Mosaic would partner with these organizations over others. They serve a very diverse student body, they have experience and a long record of success, and they have the vast networks on campus that Mosaic is looking to tap into.”

In four months, the Diaspora Ministry is due to announce another project designed to facilitate high school trips to Israel. Another project is expected next year. The ministry noted that the current budget for the program still allows for some NIS 120 million more to be put into future projects by the government, a sum which would be matched 1:2 by philanthropists, foundations and Jewish organizations.

Olami CEO David Markowitz expressed disappointment at the emphasis placed on organizational differences, in what he described as “a moment of tremendous unity in the Jewish world, where we all are coming together under one banner.”

Olami is a relatively new umbrella organization of 300 groups in 27 countries.

The organizations are traditional campus rivals. “We hope over time people will see this as a momentous occasion.

We’ve all worked really hard to find common ground where we can fit under one banner and service the entirety of the Jewish community,” he said.

“The reality is, we are all committed to an enduring Jewish community. The level of observance is not our goal, it’s to make people passionate and inspired about their Jewishness,” Markowitz said in response to accusations that the Orthodox organizations try to “convert” non-Orthodox Jews.

“There are all different strands of Judaism and we are committed to find the Judaism that serves the broader community.”

Hillel Israel director Alon Friedman said the core goals of Mosaic United are the most important aspect of the collaboration.

The groups chosen for this first project encourage more Jewish participation and deeper engagement. “It’s about connecting young Jews outside of Israel to Jewish values and to Israel, because we see in this generation how crucial that is.”

Friedman expressed confidence that more partners would join the initiative. “The real challenge is to start to speak a common language and that’s why it’s so important for Hillel to be around that table.

The fact that Hillel is there tells you every voice is being heard,” he said, pointing out that many Reform and Conservative rabbis work for Hillel and are thus being represented in the Mosaic initiative. “It really is a pluralistic initiative.”

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