Natan Sharansky 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jewish Agency Board of Governors on Wednesday unanimously accepted a new,
broader mission for the organization.
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While “still very much committed”
to its traditional focus on aliya and social welfare, the board accepted a new
plan developed by the organization’s top leadership that sees the 79-year-old
agency investing heavily in identity-forming experiences for Israeli and
Diaspora youth, according to a spokesperson for the organization.
change in focus has been the defining agenda of Jewish Agency chairman Natan
Sharansky, who called the new mission “a necessity” for the Jewish world and for
the agency’s work.
“There is a time to nurture the tree and time to
collect the fruits,” he said this week.
“Aliya, support for Israel –
these are fruits. But they only come as a result of solidarity, commitment or
connection of Jews to Israel. That’s the tree.”
A 2007 study by
researchers Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman titled “Beyond Distancing” found that
young American Jews are growing increasingly alienated from Israel as an anchor
of identity or inspiration.
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Studies conducted of the Israeli education
system, meanwhile, have found little to no Diaspora education in the course of
12 years of Israeli schooling.
The agency’s new role as a facilitator of
identity strengthening experiences is meant to strengthen the identification of
Jews around the world with Israel and the Jewish world generally, and also
includes education among Israelis about Diaspora Jewish life and culture,
according to agency officials.
The new strategic plan approved by the
board of governors changed the agency’s mission statement to a 26- word
sentence: “Inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people,
heritage and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a
The focus, officials say, has shifted from simply
facilitating or encouraging aliya and donations to Israel, to a larger role as
an education provider and a funder for large experience- centered programs such
as trips to Israel, aid programs in the developing world and pro-Israel activism
on college campuses.
The document approved by the board was a broad
outline of the new mission focus. It will be followed by a much more
plan, including a budget and restructuring proposals, that will be
the next board of governors meeting slated to take place in Jerusalem in
However, officials say that the new mission means the Jewish
Agency would no longer focus exclusively on Israel, but would also
itself with Jewish affiliation in the Diaspora.
Six months in the making,
in a process described by board president Richie Pearlstone as “lengthy
arduous” and requiring “honest and frank discussion about the agency,
role, its programs, goals directions and performance,” the plan sailed
relatively easily through the board of governors.
Some concerns were
raised that the new mission could mean less funding for aliya programs,
officials insisted the new focus on identity would translate into
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