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In their first meeting in four years, coordinators from the Hagshama Division of the World Zionist Organization are meeting here for a week-long seminar to learn more about Israel and network with their international counterparts.
Countries represented include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Israel, Mexico, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The WZO's Hagshama ("fulfillment") Division was established in January 1998 to foster young Jewish adults' connection to and involvement with Israel. Hagshama encourages young adults to learn about Israel, become active members in their communities and eventually make aliya.
Visitors to the Web site are told that the Hagshama Department exists to "help you define your relationship with Israel and encourage you to participate in Israel's and your own community's future."
"Our message is very clear," Hagshama director-general Roi Abecassis told The Jerusalem Post. "The ultimate goal of Hagshama is aliya. Our big success is that... over the last three years, 50 percent of our coordinators have made aliya. That is Hagshama."
Headed by Gael Grunewald, the Hagshama Division runs activities all over the world, including rallies to raise awareness about captured IDF soldiers, hasbara (advocacy) seminars and programs focusing on youth Zionism. Hagshama also sponsors birthright participants.
Hagshama is most active in Argentina, where the Sheinken Project brings 600 Jewish students together for regular activities, including hasbara, Israeli food and Jewish identity, etc. All emphasize the Zionist mission. "These kids want to come, they're paying to attend these programs," Abecassis told the Post.
Abecassis added that on October 16, the anniversary of the kidnapping of IDF navigator Ron Arad, Hagshama would hold international student solidarity events. "Students will demonstrate in front of Syrian and Iranian embassies and EU buildings to raise awareness about missing soldiers. Planning for this event will be discussed in the last part of this week's seminar," Abecassis said.
On Sunday, the coordinators kicked off their seminar with a meet and greet followed by dinner, after which they made their way to the Sherover Promenade in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood for a reading of Megillat Eicha to mark Tisha Be'av.
Now that the ice has been broken, coordinators will participate in workshops and discussion sessions designed to enrich their knowledge of Israel, gain tools to improve programming and get to know and trade ideas with their international peers. Their itinerary includes political panel discussions with MKs, a trip to the North to learn about the Second Lebanon War and cultural events, such as a performance by the Mayumana dance company.
Time will also be devoted to planning activities for next year - Israel's 60th anniversary.
Mercedes Bennoha from Venezuela works with Jewish youth and Jewish organizations to set up seminars and Shabbat events in order to teach them about Judaism, Zionism, and universal values. She told the Post that she hoped to "learn more about my country, Israel, and bring that back to my kids in Venezuela."