New JAFI chairman hopes to make agency 'more relevant to Israeli public'

Richard Pearlstone: We're trying to build the connection between Diaspora Jewry and Israelis.

pearlstone 88 (photo credit: )
pearlstone 88
(photo credit: )
Richard Pearlstone, the chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency for Israel's (JAFI) Board of Governors, hopes to make the agency "more relevant to the Israeli public than we've been [in the past]," he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. To that end, he said, "we're trying to build and maybe even rebuild the connection between Diaspora Jewry and Israelis." Through initiatives such as JAFI's work supporting the residents of the North during last summer's war, including maintenance of bomb shelters and support for businesses in the North, and programs offering thousands of university scholarships for Israeli soldiers, Pearlstone said he believed the agency could work to "reconnect ties to the Israeli public." Pearlstone, 59, a philanthropist and businessman who lives in Colorado but sees Baltimore as his community, has spent 13 years on the board of JAFI. Among his titles in the Jewish world, he most recently chaired the agency's Budget and Finance Committee, is a past president of the United Israel Appeal, a former board member of Baltimore's Associated Jewish Community Federation, and sits on the board of CLAL, the National Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership. "I'm really proud to be able to serve the Jewish people and especially the Jewish Agency," he said of his election, noting that his lengthy experience at JAFI and American Jewish organizations allows him to bring an "international perspective" to the job. As for the chairman's agenda for his coming four-year term, Pearlstone said: "The agency needs to continue to sharpen the focus that has been guiding us: the three pillars of aliya, youth [education] and the connection with Israel." The agency must also "try to make sure that its programming focuses on the programs that are most successful to this end," he said. Asked how he'd like others to remember his term, he said simply, "that [I] made a difference, and that [I] helped continue to lead the organization forward." In commenting on his personal religious affiliations or opinions, he was reticent. "I'm just Jewish, that's it. I don't identify with any of the streams," he said. Pearlstone was unanimously elected chairman on Sunday at the Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem. He will assume the position on June 28 following approval of his election by the 518-member Jewish Agency Assembly.