The Jewish Agency North America Council convened in New York on Monday for the very first time, inaugurating a new lay leadership for the North American branch of the Jewish Agency in the latest move meant to strengthen the organization's fund-raising capabilities in North America. "I think we have a great opportunity to bring home to people in communities across America, with our council members acting as local emissaries, awareness of the work of the Jewish Agency in promoting Jewish identity and Zionism in North America, in Israel, in the former Soviet Union and literally all over the world," said Jewish Agency North America head Maxyne Finkelstein, who spearheaded the council's establishment. The idea to establish the council was first raised a few years ago as a means of increasing awareness about the Jewish Agency in Jewish communities in North America, and providing a stronger foundation for fund-raising for the Agency's activities, particularly projects in Israel and in struggling Jewish communities outside the US. The Agency's significantly increased footprint in North America is also a response to changing donation patterns among Jews in the US and Canada, with contributions toward Jewish and Israeli causes beginning to shift away from large organizations and toward individual projects on the ground. "Historically, the Jewish Agency received and continues to receive a part of its budget from the federations," one Agency official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday after the meeting. To maintain and increase that support, the agency must "market itself better," the official added, "and that means professionals and a very active lay component." According to the official, the meeting was meant "to launch or jumpstart that lay group."