Mosaic United, the most significant Jewish org you don't know

Mosaic United is quietly pouring millions of dollars into innovative Jewish educational programs to strengthen Jewish identity and connection to Israel in the Diaspora

 STUDENTS CELEBRATE Sukkot at Chabad at Texas  A&M University, a Mosaic United partner (photo credit: Chabad at Texas A&M)
STUDENTS CELEBRATE Sukkot at Chabad at Texas A&M University, a Mosaic United partner
(photo credit: Chabad at Texas A&M)

Operating modestly and efficiently, Mosaic United is perhaps one of the most significant Jewish organizations that you may have never heard of. 

Small and nimble, operating under the radar, Mosaic United is quietly pouring millions of dollars into innovative Jewish educational programs to strengthen Jewish identity and connection to Israel in the Diaspora, in a unique partnership between the Israeli government and private philanthropy. 

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from his native Detroit, Gary Torgow, chairman of Mosaic United’s Steering Committee, says the genesis of the idea originated some seven years ago, when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was serving as Diaspora Affairs minister. 

Together with Dvir Kahana, then-ministry director-general, Bennett came up with the idea of creating a fund that the Israeli government would launch, which would be used, together with matching dollars from Jewish philanthropists, to strengthen Jewish communities outside Israel. 

“The goal was for the money to be leveraged and invested to partner with Jewish organizations around the world that were doing good work but could use a boost of additional dollars,” Torgow explained. “In this way, they would be encouraged to add greater Jewish and Israel-related content to the programming that they were involved in, and could increase the numbers of individuals they were reaching.” 

 HANUKKAH-ATHOME kits shared  with Israelis in  Berlin during  COVID lockdown  by Zusammen, a  partner of Mosaic  United’s Yisraelim. (credit: Tehilla Darmon) HANUKKAH-ATHOME kits shared with Israelis in Berlin during COVID lockdown by Zusammen, a partner of Mosaic United’s Yisraelim. (credit: Tehilla Darmon)

The Israeli government and Mosaic United reached an agreement whereby Jewish philanthropists would contribute $2 for every dollar donated by the Israeli government. To date, Mosaic United has invested $165 million in educational programs around the world, $55 million of which has been contributed by the Israeli government. 

The organization’s unusual name – Mosaic United – plays on the theme of viewing the Jewish people as a mosaic, made up of a diverse array of people, explained CEO Meir Holtz. “Like a mosaic,” Holtz said, “when these varied pieces come together, they form a beautiful whole.”

The partnership between the Israeli government and the Jewish people worldwide, he added, unites and connects Jews with their Jewish identities and Israel.

Since its founding in 1948, the State of Israel has benefited from significant financial and other assistance from the Jews of the Diaspora. The introduction of this plan, which sends money from Israel to help support Jewish communities outside Israel, has reversed the dynamic of the relationship between global Jewry and Israel. Torgow recalled making the point to Bennett when they first met. 

“I asked him that question, and he told me, ‘Today, we have a solemn responsibility for the Jewish people wherever they may be, which is facing real challenges.’ It is a change in the dynamic that I’m not sure we saw coming, but it’s clearly here,” he said.

 SHALOM CORPS volunteers restore an Istanbul synagogue.  (credit: Alef Istanbul Jewish Community Center) SHALOM CORPS volunteers restore an Istanbul synagogue. (credit: Alef Istanbul Jewish Community Center)

“There is more and more acceptance of the fact that Israel has a responsibility to global Jewry, which we can see in part through the Jewish organizations around the world that we are partnering with.”

TORGOW, CHAIRMAN of Huntington Bank and a prominent member of Detroit’s Jewish community, is concerned about the future of American Jewry. “We are experiencing an unprecedented rate of disaffiliation and disaffection among Jews outside of Israel that’s at the highest levels in our history,” he said, “and a significant percentage of the Jews have very little connection to their peoplehood, to Jewish culture, or to the State of Israel.”

To better engage young Jews, Mosaic United partners with existing Jewish organizations, providing funding, in Torgow’s words, “to do everything we can to find the most effective ways to strengthen the Jewish people.” 

He cites a singular partnership formed by Mosaic’s Campus Pillar. “We have an outstanding collaboration between Hillel International, Chabad on Campus International, and Olami on college campuses. We’ve spent tens of millions of philanthropic dollars and Israeli dollars to increase the number of students who are reached, increase Jewish knowledge and connections to Israel, increase the number of professionals on campuses, and bring as many Jews closer to their roots as we can.” 

Since its inception, the program has seen more than 115,000 Jewish students complete one of the campus partners’ programming tracks. The Campus Pillar maintains a framework that enables campus organizations to increase the number of meaningful interactions, educational initiatives and immersive experiences for under-engaged Jewish college students. 

Another innovative program developed through the assistance of Mosaic United is Shalom Corps, a global volunteer program operated in partnership with the Jewish Agency that supplies volunteer organizations around the world with funding, resources, educational tools and volunteer recruitment support. Torgow compares it to the US Peace Corps, which sends volunteers around the globe. 

“Shalom Corps does Jewish volunteer work in global immersive programs, local programs, heritage programs and emergency cases – from restoring Jewish cemeteries in Europe to assisting at the Surfside building collapse tragedy in Florida.”

MOSAIC UNITED is also trying to strengthen the connection between teens and Israel by beefing up the traditional summer tours of high school students to Israel. Torgow said the organization is now working on a project to partner with multiple organizations to boost the influx of Jewish teenagers, bringing them to Israel with a more significant time commitment. 

“They’ve got to have increased Jewish content in their programs,” Torgow said. “We are going to create a much bigger stream of Jewish teens coming to Israel.”

Mosaic United partners with leading Jewish organizations that are familiar with the Jewish world, regardless of affiliation. “We’re agnostic about whether they’re affiliated with a particular denomination or not,” Torgow said. “As long as they’re doing really good work, they’re bringing Jews closer.”

Mosaic United will be doing the same for its summer teen programs to Israel, he added. “We’re going to be working with every provider. That includes the Orthodox, the Conservative and the Reform that are bringing young teens to Israel.”

Torgow pointed out that Mosaic United has detailed requirements for organizations that want to receive funding. “It’s more than just the usage of the funds,” he explained. “It’s leveraging the funds to find the places that are best utilized for strengthening global Jewry. So we’re not just a bank. We’re an initiator.”

Organizations cannot receive funding to continue the work that they are already doing, Torgow noted. “It has to be an improvement and an increasing of participation and Jewish programming within your organization in order to win our dollars. 

“If an organization is doing Jewish volunteerism around the world and they have 1,000 people in their program, and next year with our money, they’ll have another 1,000, we won’t give them money for that. They’ve got to increase the numbers, and they must increase the Jewish content within their programs.”

Mosaic United wants to do everything it can to partner with organizations and providers to strengthen the Jewish people in the Diaspora, including the large community of Israelis living outside Israel, Torgow said.

“There’s a huge population of Israelis abroad, who we want to reach and bring more and more closely to the Jewish community wherever they are,” he said.

Mosaic United plans on accomplishing this goal with its Yisraelim program, by growing a network of local centers of activity focused on strengthening Jewish identity, creating a feeling of belonging and providing Jewish and Israeli educational opportunities for Israelis between the ages of eight to 35 living abroad. 

Funding will sponsor community-wide engagement events, supplementary education about Jewish concepts and Israeli culture, immersive Jewish experiences and trips throughout the calendar year, and activities, workshops and lectures for young couples and families.

Increasing the depth of engagement of young Jews with their Jewish identity and connection to Israel is Mosaic United’s goal, Torgow said. How can Mosaic accurately measure its success?

Torgow pointed out that it has engaged the services of outside companies to analyze its progress in its vital activities on college campuses. “We have surveys which evidence that not only are our partner organizations living up to the agreements, but that we are seeing great success in the outcomes for participants in our programs.” 

Anecdotally, he added, he is aware of many students have become closer to Jewish life and are interested in Jewish knowledge. “They’re interested in building a Jewish life and family as a result of these encounters. We’re actually seeing it and feeling it. And, clearly, it has been successful, not just per our data but the outside data, too.”

Speaking at the recent Jerusalem Post Conference, Torgow noted “that it has become incredibly clear and reflective of the new reality of the Jewish people that Jewish identity, knowledge, education and tradition are the key pathways to keeping the worldwide Jewish people connected and deeply aligned with the State of Israel. There is no more time for studies, analysis, and consultation. Today is a time for action and must be the defining principle of this generation.” 

Nachman Shai noted, “As Diaspora Minister, I value my office’s investment in Mosaic United and look forward to evolving and strengthening our work in informal education through summer camps, Israelis living abroad and of course, campuses – where not only future but current leaders are developing themselves, their Jewish identities and connections to Israel. Our belief in Mosaic’s work is a result of the Israeli government’s sense of responsibility towards fostering and elevating Jewish life and the connections between us across the Jewish world.”

There will be many future benefits as Mosaic United realizes its goals, Torgow predicted. “Those fruits may be that they will come closer into the community, join Jewish organizations, and be interested in building Jewish families. There are many byproducts that we see by connecting and bringing these members of the Jewish community closer to Jewish activity. All of those outcomes are exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here.” 

Ultimately, strengthening Jewish identity worldwide is an intelligent and strategic investment for the State of Israel, Torgow said. “More Jews will feel connected to Israel, will love Israel, and will identify with it.”

This article was written in cooperation with Mosaic United.