After a year in which the Jewish Agency for Israel lacked a permanent leader, the storied organization finally nominated a new head last week, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Doron Almog.
The appointment, which needs to be approved by the Board of Governors, ends a year of turmoil for the historic 93-year-old organization that played an important role in laying the groundwork for the establishment and running of the state of Israel. Since the previous head, Isaac Herzog, stepped down last July to become president of Israel, Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, has served as the interim chairman.
Reflecting in many ways the problems evident in the current political system, the selection committee was unable to decide whom to appoint to the prestigious top post, which required the support of at least nine out of the 10 members. It was not for a lack of good candidates. Among the people running, many had excellent credentials, but the choice was hindered by political rivalry and who was forwarded by which party.
Almog was a surprise, last-minute nomination, whose name was not heard over the past 11 months, while other candidates were undergoing a protracted selection process. Almog, 71, was in many ways the consensus candidate. The retired IDF general served as head of the IDF’s Southern Command but he is now probably best known in Israel for his work as founder and chairman of ADI Negev Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village (formerly ALEH Negev Nahalat Eran), which provides residential, medical and social services to the disabled. The village was founded after Almog’s experience finding a framework for his son, Eran, who was born with severe autism and other disabilities. After his death, the residential and rehabilitative complex was named in Eran’s memory.
Although many thought it time for Israeli organizations to look beyond retired generals (nearly all of them men) to lead important public bodies, Almog is definitely a worthy person, who has used his skills to make a valuable social impact, particularly welcome in the country’s South. In 2016, he received the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and contributions to society and the state.
The Jewish Federations of North America congratulated Almog on his nomination, saying, “We are very excited to begin partnering closely with Doron, a highly admired professional, who has dedicated his life to the Jewish People, tikkun olam [repairing the world], and empowering the most vulnerable in Israeli society, values that our North American Jewish community deeply cherishes. We look forward to working with him to further these values and deepen the vibrant relationship between Israel and North American Jewry, and continue our sacred work of building flourishing Jewish communities around the world.”
"We look forward to working with him to further these values and deepen the vibrant relationship between Israel and North American Jewry, and continue our sacred work of building flourishing Jewish communities around the world."JFNA
Finally, a head
We are pleased that the Jewish Agency will finally have a permanent head. The organization has an annual budget of approximately $400 million (NIS 1.4 billion) and nominally serves some 15.2 million Jews worldwide. While Hagoel has done a good job in the interim, the challenges facing the Jewish world are tremendous, and need a steady hand at the helm, with broad support.
Among the high priority issues for the organization, if it wishes to remain relevant, is helping Ukrainian and Russian Jewry, and facilitating aliyah and absorption from those countries, as the war continues to rage there. Also, the rise in antisemitism being felt globally needs to be firmly tackled. And, no less important, relations between Israel and diaspora Jewry needs to be boosted. There needs to be an effective channel to express and deal with the needs and concerns of Jews in the diaspora when it comes to Israel and its official bodies. Half the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel and half lives abroad. It is vital for the Jewish People that there is an open, non-political link between the two halves.
Almog has the standing, skills and caring nature that can provide this bridge. If the Jewish Agency is to continue to play a role in fostering Diaspora-Jewish ties, facilitating immigration and helping close socioeconomic gaps in Israel, it needs a full-time, permanent head, with strong support. There are many challenges ahead.