Two years ago June, with much fanfare, the Jewish Agency launched a new strategic plan. With next week’s Board of Governors meetings in Tel Aviv, we take a brief snapshot at some of the progress implementation has brought to the Agency. While a significant amount of time and energy during the first year was directed towards the called for staff reconfigurement and additional pilot project planning, most of the new initiatives outlined are just now getting underway.
In some ways, the Agency has clearly moved forward. The rounds of staff reductions, and silo-busting, necessary for implementation were clearly needed to assist the Agency in dealing with the realities of the 21st century, and are pretty much complete. The financial upheaval of the late 00’s has moderated. Challenges definitely still exist as 2013 will see a further 3% decrease in the overall budget, and a meaningful drop of approximately 9% in available unrestricted funds.
Behind the scenes, possibly the single most important change in the past few years, is the growing philosophy that the Government of Israel needs to be a partner in the work of the Agency and that certain areas should be solely the [financial] responsibility of the Government. While there have always been joint initiatives, including the historical work in youth villages and with Youth Futures, now we find, among other initiatives, the government paying for Absorption Center operations, ulpanim, and academic degree supplements for olim – all previously receiving some level of Jewish Agency funding. In some cases, the actual program implementation has remained with the Agency.
The teacher schlichim program, long a stable in many communities, has been placed under the WZO.
The one area of change most notable over the past two years is the Agency’s focus on dealing more overtly with the Jewish future – specifically the 13-35 y.o. demographic. Whether you look at a 20% increase in the number of community schlichim in the U.S or developing new models, including working directly in congregations, it is clear that there is forward traction.
The spiral, or ladder as it is now being referred to, is taking a much needed and long overdue look at the high school demographic and how to spur growth in this market. A new emphasis on school twinning programs is one example of initiatives underway.
Onward Israel, a new community driven initiative to bridge the gap for those who cannot commit (time-wise) to long-term programs is completing the pilot stage of development. MASA Israel Journey is growing.
And, in the Former Soviet Union, the importance of summer camp experiences – as the beginning steps of the ladder – are slated for expansion, also providing their own targeted FRD experiences going forward.
But perhaps the biggest departure from where the Jewish Agency was (program wise) to where it is going is the understanding that the world of activism and service is not an alternative to Zionism and Israel; they can be synonomous. The Agency’s core Tikkun Olam project, Project T.E.N., is currently operating in two third world countries and a third will launch prior to year’s end.
So, 28 months later, where are they? The Agency is definitely making progress in developing, building and growing a series of Identity programs worldwide. The North American based FRD initiatives are moving forward, but not as quickly as was hoped. As to the organizational issues we highlighted back in June, we’re not so sure. The decision approval process moves too slowly for today’s needs and board structure is a continuing problem. We hear there is less staff dysfunction than six months ago; let’s hope that’s correct. And, the hiring of an internal communications professional for the organizatiom was a solid, positive move. Lastly, to their credit, the Jewish Agency remains the most transparent, warts and all, of the larger global Jewish players.