(photo credit: Brian Hendler)
The Jewish Agency’s new strategic plan will place the state and land of Israel
squarely at the center of Diaspora consciousness, according to Jewish Agency
chairman Natan Sharansky.
The new plan calls for shifting the agency’s
activities toward identity-forming experiences for Israeli and Diaspora youth,
and has generated some concern among a group of agency lay leaders and Israeli
officials over what they worry could be an abandonment of the organization’s
traditional functions of nation-building and aliya.
Sharansky is seeking
to dispel these concerns in the runup to the Board of Governors vote on
plan late this week in Jerusalem.
“Israel remains the center” of the
agency’s programming, he told The
on Monday. “It forms the focal
point of identity. In fact, the only place specifically mentioned in the
strategic plan,” he added, “is the homeland in Israel.” Rather than
away from aliya or development of Israeli society, the new plan “will
same goals. Only the methods have changed.”
According to Sharansky, “The
goals of the founding fathers of the agency – to mobilize the Jewish
support the idea of an Israeli state, aliya and to mobilize physical and
material support from the Jewish people – this remains unchanged.”
he added, these achievements “come as a result of solidarity, commitment
connection among Jews.”
“We are living today in a global village. On the
one hand there’s a post-identity reality, where a commitment to any
community or state has an archaic or negative association. This affects
Jews who believe they have to choose between universal and national
Second, there’s a campaign to delegitimize Israel, one of whose
targets is to weaken Jewish commitment to Israel. There’s also a
connection of many Israelis to the Jewish people.”
All these challenges,
he believes, “endanger the very survival of the Jewish people. I believe
[Diaspora communities] cannot survive without a strong connection to
Israel is becoming a more and more important factor in the individual
collective identity of the Jewish people.
I know from the story of Soviet
Jewry how the connection to Israel, the discovery that we are part of
story of our people, inspires and gives you the will to fight.”
why Israel’s detractors around the world are targeting the legitimacy of
identification in their assault on Israel.
“I heard a number of times on
visits to college campuses young Jews saying, ‘It’s better for me if the
of Israel would not exist.’ Our enemies want to say, ‘You want to stay
You have some romantic sympathy to the land where your ancestors lived?
But why see yourself responsible for a political system that is involved
things you don’t like?’” While the land of Israel has a crucial role to
Jewish life – “and Jews who visit Israel are excited to touch the
like Jerusalem or the place where David fought Goliath” – the state is
key component of modern Jewish identity.
“We know that hundreds of
thousands of young Jews who come on [trips to Israel, such as]
Lapid or Masa, are no less excited to see where the Jewish people
founded a state of their own, where we became masters of our own fate.
Experiencing this [statehood] makes their loyalty to their community
This affirmation of the land and state of Israel at the
center of the new mission is not a political message, he insists.
Jewish Agency is a table where people from all parties and all streams
I just sat in a meeting between cabinet ministers of Israel and leaders
Conservative and Reform movements and the federations. The Jewish Agency
table where they can meet.” Yet it must reaffirm the centrality of
Israel in a
Jewish world that faces “a constant campaign of delegitimization of
that’s not about left-wing or right-wing governments, or this or that
but about the very existence of a Jewish state.”
Many challenges await
the new strategic plans, agency officials believe.
“Some are saying we
are replacing aliya with identity programs,” Sharansky notes,
we’re saying is that strengthening identity will bring aliya.”
question whether the agency will be able to fundraise for its dwindling
with the new focus.
“Will people give money to help strengthen identity?”
Sharansky wonders. “We have to be very attentive to these remarks and
that we can explain that this is the greatest need of the Jewish
Today, people feel this need.”
Israel, too, has a large role to play in
making itself relevant and inspiring to the Diaspora.
“Our plan discusses
how Israel can itself become an ideal society, a society that inspires
“We are not abandoning our goals, but the focus is changing,
because,” he concludes, “the world is changing.”