(photo credit: Neta Shor)
The Jewish Agency is to be congratulated on its decision, at last month’s annual
meeting, to prioritize Israel Experience programs solidifying the connection
between young Jews in the Diaspora and the Jewish state.
Birthright free 10-day mission for the 20- 30-year-olds (especially geared to
those who hitherto have never visited), has proved an outstanding
Participants return home with a reinforced Jewish identity
culminating with many graduates choosing to marry Jewish partners. The
Agency wishes to expand schemes such as this as well as the MASA project
enables young people to spend an entire year here.
There are some critics
who believe that the prioritizing of this initiative is a turning away
agency’s traditional role of fund-raising – namely to encourage aliya
new immigrants. However unless Jews abroad feel connected to Israel they
neither wish to contribute financially nor come on aliya.
of Jewish identity is a major factor in the increasing rate of
Without an historic understanding of the Jewish state, together with a
pride in who we are, there is little to keep us within the fold. This
with an Israel that is at the receiving end of worldwide bashing,
results in the
misinformed tenuous Jew turning away from the country.
has also aggravated the already negative situation for the Jewish
It has been proven that seeing is believing – the very reason the
Jewish Agency has decided to make it possible for many more young people
and discover for themselves how it feels to be part of a majority rather
minority in a country retaining democratic values.
THE QUESTION is
whether coming here is enough.
While many have benefited initially from
these programs, there appear to be two weak areas. The first is the
through” (or rather lack of it). Thousands of 16-year-olds visit during
summer for a three- or four-week program via a youth movement, but what
when they return home full of their meaningful experience? A
granddaughter of ours participated in a summer program last year – she
enthusiastic – there was talk of initiating leadership courses for the
participants on their return home, but it simply did not materialize nor
there any further contact.
Sadly this is not unusual. What happens to all
the Birthright participants who return home – do they become involved in
local community? Or are they left alone with the impact of the 10-day
swiftly dissipating? The all-important first trip is the down payment,
without adequate follow through there are no dividends.
The second area,
the more important one in my view, is the need for the Diaspora
connect with his Israeli counterpart and vice-versa.
programs do not allow for this engagement. Surely if we want to connect,
ensure that there is time to meet – to share experiences, to talk to
and learn about “the other.” This is the way to recognize that
different for the 18-year-old here and his or her counterpart in the
Here a youngster has to enter the army – be prepared to lay
down his life for the Jewish state, while his counterpart in the
thinking about which university he might enter or some future career.
quite diverse worlds do not easily lend themselves to a comprehension of
other. This was highlighted when I addressed a group in the UK of
olds whose perception of their Israeli counterpart was negative – citing
aggressive front typified by the name sabra. Sabra is also a fruit with a
prickly outside but with a sweet inside. Through an opportunity to
sweet inside of the Israeli will – we hope – be revealed.
organizes Israeli-based annual seminars for its younger members. An
component has been the composition of these groups, which always include
proportion of Israeli WIZO members – of similar age – who participate
side with their Diaspora counterparts for the full duration of the
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you (as the song
goes from The King and I) is an important tool in bringing us together.
can there be no better place than Israel for this to happen.
relationship between Israel and the Diaspora is of enormous importance
having been achieved in the past. However, if we wish this partnership
strengthened in the future then the foundations have to be laid today.
young people here is not enough in itself. It is vital to ensure that
programs contain Israeli peer participation, an opportunity for dialogue
finally culminates with a follow through contact on the return to their
Let us hope that the Jewish Agency will succeed in bringing many
more young people to Israel, intensifying their Jewish commitment,
Zionist dream and one day perhaps making it their own reality.The writer
is public relations chair of World WIZO and cochair of Europeans for