Jewish Agency: 'The old ways weren't working'

Full interview: Haviv Rettig Gur describes the Jewish Agency’s new strategy for its two-pronged vision of promoting aliya and advancing Jewish identity in the Diaspora.

By DEBORAH DANAN
August 18, 2011 19:30
2 minute read.
20 questions

20 questions 58. (photo credit: courtsey)

 
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This week, 20 Questions hosts Haviv Rettig Gur, Director of Communications at The Jewish Agency for Israel.

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The Jewish Agency was heavily criticized for recently closing down three of its major departments – namely, education, aliya, and Diaspora.


Rettig Gur defends the move by claiming that it was necessary in bridging the gaps between the departments’ sometimes conflicting goals: “You had one third of the Jewish Agency trying to empty the Diaspora out and into Israel, and one third trying to fill the Diaspora back up by sending [over] teachers and shlichim,” Rettig Gur said, referring to the Israeli emissaries that leave the country temporarily in order to join educational programs in Jewish communities around the world.

Rettig Gur credits “the Israel experience” as being the most powerful engine for combating assimilation and promoting Jewish identity. 

Regarding the Ethiopian aliya, Rettig Gur states that there are approximately 8700 Jews left in Ethiopia and that every month the Agency coordinates the immigration of several hundred of them.

At the government’s behest, the Agency has set up a program in the country’s northern city of Gondar that will equip future Ethiopian immigrants with skills to facilitate a smoother absorption into Israeli society. Several million dollars have already been fundraised towards the goal of improving both Hebrew and technical education.

The Agency is not at liberty to discuss the situation regarding the 20,000 plus Jews that still live in hostile states including Yemen, Syria and Iran.

Rettig Gur claims that the primary goal of the Agency’s new strategy is in determining what motivates people to make aliya – particularly for those who have comfortable lifestyles in the Diaspora. The Agency further maintains that the reason that people choose to make aliya is the same one that drives people to undertake leadership roles within their Jewish community. This provides another insight into the Agency’s choice to combine its departments. 

So what then is the chief motivating factor?

Rettig Gur claims that it is the individual’s need to feel connected to an authentic and “powerful story” that is far older and greater than themselves. Moreover, he emphasizes the importance of the right to be free within that story.

The Agency strives not to promote the use of negative factors—such as increased anti-Semitism or delegitimization of Israel—as a reason to make aliya. It also steers clear of political agendas or affiliations. According to Rettig Gur, in the eyes of the Agency a successful aliya story can come in the form of an immigrant who arrives in Israel with the goal of “fighting the occupation,” or by the same token an immigrant with dreams of growing settlements beyond the Green Line.

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