Jewish Agency approves new mission

Organization to focus on Israeli, Diaspora youth relations

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
June 24, 2010 01:57
2 minute read.
Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The Jewish Agency Board of Governors on Wednesday unanimously accepted a new, broader mission for the organization.

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.

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The 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.



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 strong Israel.”

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 detailed plan, including a budget and restructuring proposals, that will be presented to the next board of governors meeting slated to take place in Jerusalem in October.

However, officials say that the new mission means the Jewish Agency would no longer focus exclusively on Israel, but would also concern itself with Jewish affiliation in the Diaspora.

Six months in the making, in a process described by board president Richie Pearlstone as “lengthy and arduous” and requiring “honest and frank discussion about the agency, its unique 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, but officials insisted the new focus on identity would translate into greater aliya, not less.

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