At 90, Jewish Agency for Israel to rebrand as hub for entire Jewish world
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Plan charts new readiness to partner with Diaspora groups

At 90, Jewish Agency for Israel to rebrand as hub for entire Jewish world

Ahead of annual board meeting, agency announces new strategic plan that includes emphasis on connecting between Diaspora communities and increased education against anti-Semitism

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog welcomes members of the Falashmura community as they arrive at the Immigration offices at Ben Gurion Airport on February 4, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog welcomes members of the Falashmura community as they arrive at the Immigration offices at Ben Gurion Airport on February 4, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

As the Jewish Agency for Israel turns 90 this year, it is refocusing its vision for the next decade. No longer merely “for Israel,” the agency is prioritizing connections between Diaspora communities — and outreach into the greater non-Jewish community to educate against anti-Semitism.

In an increasingly divisive Jewish world, the agency continues to attempt to bridge the gap between Israel and the Diaspora. But in a focus shift, it will double down on its advocacy for Jewish communities in the halls of the Israeli Knesset and attempt to influence government policy on their behalf.

The implementation of the strategic plan, including earmarking a budget, will begin only after its adoption at the annual Board of Governors’ meeting in Jerusalem from October 27-29.

In a statement outlining the new focus, Chairman of the Executive Isaac Herzog said, “This is an historic moment for an organization that has held an historic role in the life of the Jewish people over the past 90 years. Today we are refining our strategic mission for the coming decade, based on the challenges Jews are facing today.”

According to the strategic plan, the agency will ramp up its efforts to advocate for immigration to Israel — it has brought some 3 million immigrants since the foundation of the state. At the same time, it increasingly acknowledges that the safety of those Jews who decide not to uproot to the Jewish state is of utmost importance — and its bailiwick.

Rabbi Jair Melchior (R) talks to a Danish soldier guarding the Jewish Synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, on September 29, 2017. (AFP/SCANPIX DENMARK/Nikolai Linares)

In a statement, the agency said it will “fight vigorously against the manifestations of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.” It already attempts to fight BDS on college campuses through a portion of its 2,000 global emissaries. With the implementation of the new plan, there will be many more boots on the ground to help fortify Jews and educate non-Jews.

According to a background conversation, the organization has already “dramatically stepped up work outside the Jewish community.” These efforts include interfacing with international governments as well as educational work on the local level.

Likewise, the agency has successfully pushed for education on Diaspora Jewry in Israeli schools. A new program for sixth graders was approved and is currently in development and being taught to teachers through the Ministry of Education.

Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog, center, at an event at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome some 300 new immigrants from France on a special flight organized by the Jewish Agency, July 23, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Part of the key to future success is a new readiness to collaborate and partner with existing organizations throughout the Jewish world. The agency would work as a global platform and coordinator/convener of the world’s many existent Jewish organizations — many of whose work overlaps.

Through collaboration, Herzog said in a statement, “we will work to provide concrete solutions to the greatest challenges facing the Jewish people at this time: mending the rifts among our people, building a two-way bridge between Israel and world Jewry, encouraging Aliyah and providing security for Jews around the world.”

There is a new emphasis on Jewish peoplehood on a global scale: connecting the world’s Jews to each other, rather than only connecting communities to Israel. The agency also hopes to, somehow, bring secular and other unaffiliated Diaspora Jews “into the Jewish story,” as an official said on background.

A January 2018 conversion conference held at the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. (Ezra Landau)

Through a series of focus groups with heads of communities and Jewish thinkers in New Jersey and Milan, the agency says it has identified new needs. In what is arguably the most ambitious portion of the plan, “The Jewish Agency will also work to ensure the involvement of global Jews in shaping the face of Israeli society.”

As seen through the stymied Western Wall pluralistic prayer pavilion and attempts to legislate for conversion to Judaism outside of the Israeli rabbinate, Diaspora Jewry has had limited success in shaping Israeli policy and society.

CEO of the Jewish Agency Amira Aharonoviz (courtesy/Jewish Agency for Israel)

The Jewish Agency CEO Amira Ahronoviz is leading the organization’s new vision and seems optimistic of its likely success. She said in a statement: “Only by building a bilateral bridge, on which Jews from global communities and Israeli society march together, while deepening their acquaintance, appreciation and love, can we create a vision of mutual success, joint alliance and a united future among the Jewish people.”

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