JAFI increases envoys for community work

Move not focused on aliya facilitation, indicates shift for Jewish Agency.

JEWISH FELLOWS to Hillel Houses 370 (photo credit: Sam Sokol)
JEWISH FELLOWS to Hillel Houses 370
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
The Jewish Agency for Israel increased the number of emissaries it sends abroad by 20 percent in 2012 – Yehuda Setton, the organization’s director of long term emissaries told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Some in the agency believe the organization’s traditional role as a facilitator of mass aliya is coming to an end, and while JAFI continues to increase the number of its emissaries abroad, the changing roles of these representatives indicates a sea change in how the longstanding Zionist institution views itself.
JAFI maintains around 1,500 emissaries worldwide, a number which is higher than ever before, but gone are the emissaries whose exclusive job was to convince diaspora Jews to migrate. There remain, however, agency employees whose job is to help facilitate aliya for those who choose to move, but they are in the minority.
The focus is on entire communities and bringing Israel to them in order to provide community members with a Jewish and Zionist connection and orientation. Aliya has dropped off now that the majority of people from Russia, Ethiopia and the Arab world have made come to Israel.
Programs like birthright, in which college-age Jews come for free tours, lead to participation in work and study fellowships through JAFI-funded programs MASA and these lead to some people making aliya, but most of the people involved do not end up moving to Israel, agency officials acknowledged.
However, participants are more likely to undertake such a move than those who have not come on these programs and among the majority who choose to remain abroad, many become more involved with their Judaism and a significant number are said to end up becoming leaders of Jewish youth movements.
Setton, speaking to the Post by phone, said that “the idea is not that aliya is over. We just changed the direction. Understand that aliya is part of a continuum.
If you educate a young person about Israel and about his Jewish identity he will become a part of the Jewish community and may come to Israel.”
“All of emissaries are [still] talking about the issue of aliya... but we are more focused on education about [the country] and Jewish identity, so this is the change about aliya. The focus is more about the young people.”
There are now three kinds of shlichim around the globe, Setton said. There are those who work with youth movements and focus on Zionism; and there is the community focus, which is the biggest focus for the agency, he said.
“The third leg is the campus leg. Most of our ‘Israel Fellows’ are in North America, but some of them are outside in countries like Paraguay, Australia, and Germany. Shlichim stand for Israel on campuses and more than that they educate about Israel and about Jewish [identity].”
There are two tracks within the three “legs” of service, he elaborated, consisting of longterm and short-term emissaries.
“We have around 170-180 community emissaries in Jewish communities. We also have young people, doing a year of [community] service before going into the army, as well as people who are older.”
“The last gate you have in the Jewish world, to be to be part of the Jewish community, generally is the campus,” Setton said.
If someone doesn’t engage in his Jewishness by then, it will be much harder to reach them later.
Of the campus shlichim, many work within Hillel Houses, he said. “They connect Jewish students to Jewish identity.”