Jewish Agency vows to grow despite budget woes

Sharansky: Fostering Jewish identity best way to encourage aliya.

Shimon Peres 370 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Shimon Peres 370
(photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Despite a steady and significant decline in its budget, the leader of one of the biggest Jewish NGOs in the world on Sunday said it would expand its operations. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said that over the next few years, his outfit would send more emissaries to countries overseas in order to cultivate Jewish identity and bolster ties between Israel and the Diaspora.
“The strategy is to expand this program over the next 10 years so that it is not restricted to the US, but becomes a global vehicle for defending Jews on campus and attracting them to Israel,” he said.
Speaking at the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors in Jerusalem, a tri-annual gathering of its leaders and donors, Sharansky responded to criticism by some observers – including senior agency officials – that expanding the group’s scope of operations to include Jewish education, rather than focusing exclusively on Jewish immigration to Israel, would be detrimental.
The former Soviet dissident told the audience at the Inbal Hotel that the best method to increase aliya was indirect, through education and fighting assimilation.
“In these two struggles, the Jewish people have no better choice of weapon than Israel to make their children proud Jews,” he said. “There is no better defender of the Jewish people than Israel.”
But if the Jewish Agency is to implement the strategic plan it introduced three years ago, it needs more funds. Like many other large Jewish organizations, it has seen a drop in its income for a multitude of reasons.
Experts say this downturn is due to the aging of the traditional donor base, the weakening of identity among younger Jewish Americans, the ongoing economic uncertainty in the US and philanthropists’ increasing preference to give money to specific causes rather than large charities.
The agency has responded to these developments by creating an independent fundraising department in New York headed by Misha Galperin. Its aim is to raise more money directly from private donors. Diversifying its sources of income would alleviate dependence on an annual stipend from the Jewish federations and revenue from assets such as property, which are estimated at tens of millions of dollars.
President Shimon Peres, who attended the conference and spoke before Sharansky, acknowledged the changes at the Jewish Agency in his speech and suggested it find a new moniker reflective of its would-be broader agenda.
“You have to choose a name that fits its spirit and its purpose,” he told delegates, and suggested that from now on it be called the “Jewish Assembly.”