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A three-day Jerusalem conference aimed at guaranteeing the future well-being of the Jewish people concluded on Thursday with approval for the establishment of a secretariat, under the auspices of President-elect Shimon Peres, that is intended to prioritize and seek the implementation of the dozens of recommendations drawn up by the 120 Israeli and Diaspora participants.
The secretariat was set up after many of the high-profile delegates warned they did not want to feel that their time at the conference had been wasted and that their suggestions would wind up as dusty papers.
The recommendations include a call for the establishment of new forums for Israel-Diaspora interaction, bolstered funding for US Jewish day-schooling and new investment by the Israeli government in hasbarah.
The conference was the latest and most significant meeting hosted to date by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI,) a Jewish Agency-founded institution that seeks to develop a strategic plan for the survival and flourishing of the Jewish people worldwide. It was attended by most top members of the Israeli government, the heads of major Diaspora Jewish organizations and other leading Jewish scholars and activists, who spent much of the conference articulating the challenges facing Israel and the Diaspora.
The move to establish the secretariat, suggested by JPPPI Chairman and former US special envoy for the Middle East Dennis Ross, came after several delegates expressed the concern at Thursday's concluding sessions that the three days of deliberations would lead nowhere and would constitute nothing but "hot air," unless a concerted effort were made to press Israeli ministries, Jewish organizations and other relevant parties to adopt the various proposals.
Yisrael Harel, a former head of the Council of Jewish Settlements, for instance, declared that unless it was plain that concrete progress was being made on the basis of the recommendations, "the energy will evaporate" and the JPPPI would find itself unable to attract a similarly high-level gathering again in the future.
The JPPPI's founder, Professor Yehezkel Dror, appeared to oppose the idea of trying to turn the recommendations into action, saying that the conference should confine itself to providing policy recommendations and not seek to implement them.
Conference organizers were also heavily and repeatedly criticized for the relative dearth of young participants, and for the lack of women, especially as the heads of all four of the working groups were male and the various plenary panels were largely male.
Other recommendations raised at the conference ranged from taking steps to make conversion more accessible, to setting up a global center to train Jewish leaders, to encouraging "part-time" aliya - living part of the year in Israel and part of it in a Diaspora community. The recommendations further dealt with expanding Birthright and Massa and providing follow-up for these experiences.
One of the working groups of the conference noted "there was an overwhelming sentiment that a state monopoly of religion in Israel, our homeland, is emerging as a major impediment to Jewish unity and continuity; a major challenge to aliya; and even as a major impediment to the Jewish identification of a very significant number of Israelis."