On the eve of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors’ meetings, Natan Sharansky expresses his ideas on where to re-focus the organization.
The Jewish Agency’s main priority is no longer to bring more Jews to Israel, but to help preserve Jewish identity worldwide, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Shransky announced on Wednesday in a speech before American Jews visiting Israel.
These statements, which Sharansky made in a speech in Jerusalem before participants of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were according to people from the Jewish Agency the first time that Sharansky publicly placed Jewish identity above immigration to Israel, though he did say before that the two issues were equally important.
The chairman presented strengthening Jewish identity as the biggest challenge facing world Jewry. “Our main challenge today in Russia, Ukraine, Argentina and elsewhere is how to bring more kids to informal Jewish education,” he said, adding: “We have to build a school of proud Jews, connected to Israel.” He also said the Jewish Agency remains committed to bringing Jews to Israel.
Sharansky delivered his speech at an event dedicated to the presentation of a new document by two researchers from the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute – Avi Gil, a former director-general in the foreign ministry, and Einat Wilf, a Knesset member for Labor and former aide to Shimon Peres.
“It was breath of fresh air to hear Mr. Sharansky speak about his vision for the Jewish Agency,” said Wilf, whose document examines alternative scenarios for the Jewish people in 2030. “I didn’t think I would ever hear the head of the Jewish Agency talk about needing to go beyond aliyah, and having aliyah not being the first priority,” she told Sharansky and the crowd of approximately 150 people.
Wilf said Sharansky’s speech was “the first step toward leading a more egalitarian round-table relationship,” in which “all Jews can contribute equally.”
… One Israeli-born source with inside knowledge of the Jewish Agency said that these statements should be seen in the context of a plan favored by Sharansky to restructure the Jewish Agency so as to give Jewish education projects more emphasis at the expense of the agency’s Aliyah department. A Jewish Agency spokesperson said this claim was unsubstantiated and incorrect.