Anglo life in Tel Aviv, under one umbrella

The Am Yisrael foundation, a new nonprofit, offers a one-stop shop of English-speaking organizations in the White City

Debra writes for the JTA, and is a former features writer for The Times of Israel.

Am Yisrael puts several Tel Aviv organizations under one umbrella. (photo credit: Shutterstock/illustrative)
Am Yisrael puts several Tel Aviv organizations under one umbrella. (photo credit: Shutterstock/illustrative)

On Tuesday night at the police station on Dizengoff Street, a group of English-speaking immigrants who now call Tel Aviv home reported for duty. They were there to get a briefing on the ins and outs of serving as a cop on Tel Aviv city streets, the first meeting in a partnership between the Israel National Police and an organization called ProjecT.A. that will eventually see Anglo olim train and volunteer to become active-duty police in the White City.

“More volunteers for the police means more support for them and more help for them. It means they can do a better job around the city,” says Eric Schorr, a Philadelphia native who made aliya in 2012 and is one of the coordinators of the program. “We’re giving people the opportunity to engage in Tel Aviv on a municipal level.”

ProjecT.A.’s partnership with the Tel Aviv Police is directly in line with its mission to get Anglo immigrants to take more ownership of their city, learning about how its civic institutions work and accepting a stake in them. It’s just one of the many facets of a new nonprofit called the Am Yisrael Foundation, an umbrella organization whose founder Jay Shultz says will further his mission to bring young Jews home to the place where they truly belong: Tel Aviv.

In the eight years since Shultz moved to Tel Aviv, he has launched more Anglo-centric organizations than you can count on one hand. His projects include the Tel Aviv International Salon, which has brought speakers including Dr. Ruth and MK Tzipi Livni to audiences of English-speaking expats; the Tel Aviv Arts Council, which arranges outings to dance, theater, film events and beyond; and Adopt-A-Safta, an English-speaking, Tel-Aviv centric twist on the Big Brother program which pairs new immigrants with elderly Holocaust survivors in Israel. Now with Am Yisrael, they are all bundled together into the same broad mission.

“We are the first major Jewish organization to see the treasure that is Tel Aviv, and the power that this city holds for saving the Jewish people,” Shultz says.

It’s a grandiose statement, but Shultz means it. His commitment to Tel Aviv, he says, is based on a belief that Judaism in the Diaspora is dying a slow death. The best antidote, he feels, is to encourage young Jews abroad to move to Israel and build up its cities, specifically Tel Aviv.

Am Yisrael is unabashedly Zionist and Anglo-focused. Its goal, Shultz explains, is to become a one-stop shop for immigrants to Tel Aviv looking to fill gaps in their new Israeli lives. Need a place for Friday night dinner? Am Yisrael Foundation offers the White City Shabbat series, which feature Friday night group meals for young people in Tel Aviv. Want to get involved in the peace process? It’s got the Sons of Abraham, which pushes for Arab-Jewish dialogue. And if you want to explore your Jewish roots, it offers the Jewish Life Series, which encourages Jewish knowledge and practice.

“The generation of Diaspora Jews that base their fundamental Jewish identity on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, or national fervor of the Six Day War, or their grandma’s chicken soup, is over,” Shultz says. “We need to attack ignorance of Jewish texts and Jewish life head-on.”

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