This week's Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem is the first in many years that won't be discussing significant cuts to the organization's budget.
In an effort to refocus the organization away from its shrinking financial base and to bolster the sense of mission among its educators and activists, agency chairman Natan Sharansky has vowed not to make any new budget cuts in 2010.
"We can't keep bleeding and still plan for the future," he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Asked how the agency would make up the expected deficit for 2010, estimated at several million dollars, Sharansky said he was "counting on us raising enough money. First we have to guarantee that [donor organizations like] the UJC and Keren Hayesod will raise the same funds they gave last year. This is hard when every Jewish organization is reporting a tougher year than last."
The agency was also "looking for new sources of funding," he added.
And the government could step in to make up the shortfall, Sharansky said. He said he has met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the issue. "I'm in negotiations to make sure that the government will help when it's necessary."
Just hours after the end of the Board of Governors gathering on Tuesday, Sharansky will fly abroad on a whirlwind tour of dozens of federations and communities seeking to make up the budget shortfall.
According to Jewish Agency Finance Department figures, the current annual budget of the agency is $260m. This is a cut of some $60m. from as recently as 2007.
Such "dramatic" cuts harm the agency's ability to carry out its mission, said Sharansky.
"I was in Ukraine recently, and I almost cried about the drop in programming" caused by the budget cuts. "The number of students in classes or pupils in summer programs has plummeted. With all due respect to the deficit, it's also important not to make the organization irrelevant."
Sharansky also announced the mobilization of a major new outreach project to overseas university campuses with large numbers of Jews at the Board of Governors meeting on Monday. The program, which will send some 100 emissaries over the next two years to campuses in North America, where some 80 percent of Diaspora Jews live, reflects the central Jewish Agency mission of "strengthening the ties between Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel," he told the agency board's Committee for Combating Anti-Semitism.
The initiative marks a dramatic increase from the current figure of just 20 emissaries, who serve on campuses in cooperation with Hillel.
"In his recent visits to North America, [Sharansky] was witness to a worrying phenomenon: Jewish students rejecting all contact with the State of Israel in the wake of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attacks on it on campuses," read a statement by the Jewish Agency explaining the new program.
The emissaries will be trained by senior international experts on issues of activism, international law and hasbara (public diplomacy), including Canadian MP, professor and former justice minister Irwin Cotler and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
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