For first time, Jewish Agency to meet in the Diaspora

For first time, Jewish A

For the first time, the Jewish Agency is considering holding some of its thrice-yearly leadership meetings outside the country, to better acquaint its leaders with the world's Jewish communities. The Jewish Agency's 120-member Board of Governors meets in Israel in February, June and October. The October meeting is dominated by budget planning for the next year and the June meeting with oversight of agency projects. But February's gathering deals with the less urgent matters of agency operations. According to an agency source, there are two goals to the move. The first is to bring the board members into the field, where they can observe first-hand the agency's projects. "The idea is to show them the activities where they are happening, rather than settling for slide presentations and 'academic' discussions carried in Jerusalem hotel rooms," said the source, a high-ranking official in the organization. The second goal is to introduce the agency to the Jewish communities, "to show them the relevance of the organization" - and, most important of all, to bring local Jewish activists into the fold as donors to the agency. "Clearly there is the feeling that unimpeded interaction and direct contact between the local community leaders and the Jewish Agency leaders can expand the circle of donors," the official said. The plan is still in development. The agency's budget crunch means that the added travel expenses would have to be covered by the inviting community. "The agency won't spend any money beyond the usual budget of the Board of Governors meetings [in Israel]," the official promised. According to the plan, the first overseas board meeting would take place as early as this February. It's tentatively slated to take place in St. Petersburg, Russia, though plans with the local community umbrellas are not yet finalized. An agency official joked that planning a February conference in St. Petersburg shows "that [agency chairman] Natan Sharansky's idea of a 'corporate retreat' is to take us all with him to experience the frozen gulag.'" Sharansky was in a Siberian labor camp for more than nine years for his dissident activities under the Soviet regime. The tentative plan calls for the subsequent visit, in February 2011, to take place in France, followed in February 2012 with a gathering in South America, probably in Argentina.