You deserve to know

A lexicon of 90 years of commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.

By
October 10, 2019 16:10
AN ENTHUSIASTIC welcome for new immigrants from France with T-shirts bearing the hashtag (in Hebrew)

AN ENTHUSIASTIC welcome for new immigrants from France with T-shirts bearing the hashtag (in Hebrew) ‘#choosing Israel.’. (photo credit: Courtesy)

It’s not always easy having a job people wonder about in an organization many believe has outlived its purpose. Fortunately for me, that’s a matter of perception not of substance. I love what I do at the Jewish Agency, and what I do is part of an enormous collective effort to ensure the future of a global Jewish family with a vibrant and value-driven Israel at its center. Having just celebrated our 90th birthday, and in the process of re-imagining ourselves as we head toward our 100th, I thought this an appropriate moment to share what it is that we’re all about. So here it is, from A to Z.

Aliyah (Immigration to Israel) – As we enter the new Jewish year of 5780, Israel’s population stands at 9.1 million. Of these, 3.3 million are immigrants. The Jewish Agency was involved in bringing every one of them home, in ways ranging from simply processing their applications to engineering complex covert rescue operations. Some 36,000 arrived since last Rosh Hashanah, with 9,200 currently under our care in 42 absorption frameworks and Hebrew-language ulpan teaching programs around the country. 

Birthright-Taglit – Since its inauguration in 1999, more than 650,000 young Jews from 67 countries have participated in this 10-day free, and often life-changing Israel experience, exploring their Jewish identity and relationship to the Jewish state. Launched as a partnership of its visionaries Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel.
Conversions – Immigrant soldiers in the Israeli Army who may not be Jewish according to Jewish law or who may feel insufficiently versed in their Jewish heritage have the option of attending Nativ, the Jewish Agency’s identity-building institute. Of the approximate 1,700 recruits who participate each year, most of them from the Former Soviet Union, several hundred go on to convert.

Developing Jewish Communities – Some 35,000,000 non-Jews around the world claim a connection to the Jewish people, tracing their lineage back to the Conversos, those Jews who converted under duress during the Spanish Inquisition. Thousands of them live in communities that maintain a significant degree of Jewish practice. The Jewish Agency is actively engaged in exploring this phenomenon with an eye to developing ties with them.

Ethiopian Jewry – Since the early 1950s, The Jewish Agency has facilitated the aliyah of more than 90,000 Ethiopian Jews. It is now working to bring over the remnants of their relatives, long stranded in Gondar and Addis Ababa, as well as being a founding partner of the Ethiopian National Project, a leading agent for their successful integration into Israeli society.

Former Soviet Union – In addition to facilitating the ongoing aliyah of more than 1,000,000 immigrants from the FSU, the Jewish Agency also has a special unit working with communities of Russian-speaking Jews around the world, providing them with myriad educational opportunities and various ways of maintaining ties with Israel. 

Global Community Action Network: Project 248 – That’s the number of positive Jewish commandments, and the name of a Jewish Agency initiative to raise awareness of the big challenges facing the Jewish people, and to cultivate a network of emerging community leaders with a passion for creating a shared Jewish future while enabling them to translate their dreams into doing.

Holocaust Survivors – A place to live, a community to call their own, and a network of support is what Amigour is all about. This project of the Jewish Agency provides 9,000 victims of Nazi terror with housing and a network of support in sheltered living complexes throughout Israel.

Israel Education Lab – Makom – Empowering educators, rabbis, activists and artists to embrace the vibrant complexity of Israel, to ask tough questions, and to articulate compelling visions of Jewish statehood is the mission of this Jewish Agency unit, which also develops cutting-edge pedagogic tools for their use.

Jewish Peoplehood – In response to a crisis of connection between Israeli Jews and Jews around the world, the Jewish Agency launched AmiUnity, an educational initiative encouraging young Israelis to explore the vitality of Jewish life outside the Jewish state and to help Jews abroad feel comfortable with and in Israel.

Kotel (Western Wall) – “One wall for one people” was the slogan of a four-year effort led by Natan Sharansky while he served as chairman of the Jewish Agency, tasked at the time by Israel’s prime minister to come up with a formula that would encourage a diversity of prayer services at the site. The resulting proposal was approved by the government but then frozen for political reasons. The Jewish Agency responded by reiterating its solid support for the plan and continues to insist on its implementation.

Leadership Training – MiNYanim, a program for cultivating young Jewish leaders in Eastern and Central Europe, is only one of numerous Jewish Agency initiatives to ensure a vibrant Jewish future. Others include special programs for returning shlichim (emissaries) and dedicated pre-army training academies. All combine intellectual engagement with intensive hands-on experiential learning.

Masa – Since 2004, more than 150,000 young adults from more than 60 countries have participated in these long-term immersive Israel experiences, including university programs, internships, community service and yeshiva studies. These programs help them grow personally and professionally while becoming part of a new generation with a stronger bond to Israel and a deeper understanding of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.

Net@ – As hi-tech becomes increasingly central to Israel’s economy, computer literacy has become increasingly critical to ensuring social mobility. This Jewish Agency after-school program is geared toward increasing the social, economic and educational opportunities of disadvantaged youth from Israel’s geographical and social peripheries.

Onward Israel – Exposing young Jewish professionals to the realities of modern-day Israel while also building their skill sets, this Jewish Agency-initiated program offers six- to 10-week community service and internship opportunities to alumni of Birthright and other Israel programs.

Partnership2Gether – By connecting communities in Israel with Jewish communities abroad, the Jewish Agency has created a platform for nurturing a global Jewish network based on friendship, support and mutual respect for the diversity of Jewish expression around the world.

Quiz – The International Bible Quiz for Youth, a joint effort of the Jewish Agency and Israel’s Education Ministry, will be bringing more than 70 contestants from 40-plus countries to participate in this prestigious competition on Israel’s Independence Day 2020, just as it has 56 times in the past, forging bonds between Jews the world over in the process.

Religious Streams – The Jewish Agency is the premier advocate for religious pluralism in Israel, championing the recognition of Conservative and Reform Judaism and allocating millions of dollars annually for projects that promote diversity of religious expression in Israeli society.

Shlichim (Emissaries) – The Jewish Agency’s mission of engaging with Jews everywhere is never more fully realized than through the work of the nearly 2,000 shlichim that it sends abroad each year. These inspiring young people become the human face of Israel in Jewish summer camps, community centers, schools and federations around the world, as well as serving as a voice for Israel on more than 220 college campuses.

Tikkun Olam – The Jewish Agency is energetically involved in social activism at home and abroad, harnessing the idealism and altruism of young Jews everywhere. These social pioneers live as small communities among some of Israel’s neediest. Elsewhere, they volunteer in some of the world’s most destitute locales, helping local populations help themselves through educational programs and social entrepreneurship.

Unity of the Jewish People – A fundamental value of the Jewish Agency, this catchphrase finds expression in a variety of its programs, as well as in the work of a special committee mandated with addressing potentially divisive issues in the Jewish world and overseeing various initiatives to ensure a flourishing global Jewish collective.

Victims of Terror – The Jewish Agency has established a fund to provide instantaneous emergency aid to those whose lives have been shattered by terrorist activity, as well as ongoing care in such forms as psychological counseling and job retraining for individuals and families rebuilding their lives.

World Zionist Organization – Established at the First Zionist Congress convened by Theodor Herzl in 1897, the WZO spawned the Jewish Agency for Israel in 1929. It continues today as a driving ideological force within it, serving alongside Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Federations of North America as one of its three constitutional partners.

X, Y and Z – Whatever the differences between the generations bearing these labels, the Jewish Agency is concerned by something characteristic of all of them: an apparent disaffection with Israel and the very idea of a Jewish state. For hints of its response, see under G, I, L and S. 

Youth Villages – One of the most pressing social problems facing Israel today is the sharp increase in the number of youths at risk. The Jewish Agency’s Youth Villages help these youngsters get back on track, with a holistic educational approach geared toward helping them cope with severe emotional, behavioral and familial challenges.

Zionism – See A to Y, together fulfilling its definition as framed by the Jerusalem Program. This includes “strengthening Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the Prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.” All of these are held to be the common responsibility of the entirety of the Jewish people.

There’s much more but this, in a nutshell, is the essence of what the Jewish Agency does. You deserve to know, because in one way or another, you’re likely footing the bill. Israeli taxpayer shekels support a good number of our projects. Every other currency where Jews live, and many where they don’t, fuel our programs through donations made to local Jewish Federations in the United States operating under the umbrella of the Jewish Federations of North America, and to Keren Hayesod, which raises funds in more than 45 other countries.

All of this is in addition to contributions received from individuals and foundations, Jewish and non-Jewish, around the world. Indeed, as noted at the outset, this amounts to an enormous collective effort to ensure the future of a global Jewish family with a vibrant and value-driven Israel at its center. All is made possible, I might add, by partners inspired by the time-honored Mishnaic dictum, “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

The writer serves as deputy chair of the Jewish Agency executive and does a bit of everything from A to Z. The Jewish Agency is the ongoing story of Israel and the Jewish people. Family Matters tells that as it is, one chapter at a time.


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