At the conclusion of this year’s program, OTZMA is slated to become a program of the Israel Experience Educational Tourism Services Ltd., a subsidiary of The Jewish Agency for Israel, in a way returning the program to its early roots.
Project OTZMA, founded 27 years ago, was originally a joint program of the Israel Forum and the UJA (North America) in cooperation with the Jewish Agency’s Department for Jewish Zionist Education. Over the decades the OTZMA program itself has gone through changes; UJA became a part of Jewish Federations of North America, and roughly three years ago – in a cost-cutting move – The Jewish Agency moved away from direct program support.
On November 1, 2011, Jerry Silverman – JFNA’s CEO – announced the conclusion of OTZMA. Neither at that time, nor at any time since, has Silverman, or JFNA, provided alumni, or their Federation stakeholders, any explanation for the decision.
While the assumption around Israel is that the significant outcry by the OTZMA alumni community forced JFNA’s hand in trying to find a new home for the program, many questions remain, including the future relationship between OTZMA and the individual Federations.
One can only hope that OTZMA’s absorption into the Israel Experience organization will have more positive results than Hadassah-Young Judaea’s absorption of WUJS Arad. Now, almost nine years later, while the WUJS name still exists under Young Judaea Israel, the program itself is mostly unrecognizable and the alumni community has been decimated.