A New Agenda for 21st Century World Jewry

A new international agenda, Tikkun Olam, is uniting Israeli aid amutot and Jewish humanitarian groups from around the world in a common mission: partaking in the global effort to overcome the most serious afflictions of poverty, hunger and disease worldwide.

Under the auspices of Tel Aviv University’s Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy, this bold agenda brought together, a few days ago, the largest gathering of Jewish and Israeli humanitarian aid groups ever assembled in Israel. Over 100 representatives of Diaspora and Israeli groups participated in a Workshop on Faith and International Development, and heard from development experts, philanthropists, academics and spiritual leaders on the role of the Jewish people among the nations in the 21st century.

A major focus of the workshop was to discuss ways to encourage the current generation of Jews to fulfill their personal responsibility to humanity, in the spirit of our Jewish tradition. According to project director Eli Fried, “By contributing to the struggle against disease, hunger and poverty, we can help those who urgently need our assistance…We believe that this agenda can also give rise to a new age in the relations between Israel and the Jewish world.”

One of the program highlights was a major ‘Jewish learning session’, which aimed to formulate a new Jewish-humanitarian vocabulary, and introduce the values of Tikkun Olam into the central discourse of the Jewish establishment worldwide. There was also discussion among the heads of major Jewish foundations on how to enhance the support of Jewish philanthropists for large-scale, coordinated Jewish and Israeli endeavors in the developing world.

We heard the results of a survey recently conducted by the Hartog School at Tel Aviv University and released at the Conference about Israeli society’s attitudes towards Israel’s foreign aid policy. You can read about the study here.

Key speakers included Anne Heyman, Esq, President of the Heyman-Merrin Family Foundation, who in a joint project with the JDC, is spearheading the creation of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village for genocide orphans in Rwanda. The concept is based on Israeli Youth Aliya Villages established in the 1950’s, and more recently the home of many Ethiopian immigrants, some of whom will now return to their home continent to serve on the Agahozo-Shalom team.

Read what the Clinton Global Initiative has to say about this project here.

We also heard from Ruth W. Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service, one of the largest Jewish inspired international development organizations. Ruth joked about being known as ‘Miss Darfur’ as AJWS has been instrumental in efforts to raise the profile of the Darfur genocide in the U.S.

By the way, AJWS has a great new website; definitely worth a look if you haven’t visited recently!

The sessions were enlightening and educational and we will have a few related posts both today and next week on this meaningful premier event.

You can also find a great article by Anshel Pfeffer summarizing the Conference here; just one small part…

The “hot” idea mentioned at almost every session at the conference was establishing a world Jewish volunteer service that would function similarly to the American Peace Corps, and would send thousands of Jewish young people and professionals for a year of volunteer work all over the world.

“For the concept of a Jewish volunteer force to succeed,” says Akiva Tor, who is the Foreign Ministry official responsible for ties with Diaspora communities, “a senior political figure has to enlist in the cause or one of the big Jewish donors has to fall in love with the idea. Just to reach the first group of 100 volunteers will require at least $10 million.”

Most conference participants agreed that such a program should be open to any serious Jewish candidate who is willing to donate a year of work, and that the training should take place in Israel, which would then itself become a world center of international aid. Now the only thing needed is a mover and shaker who will accept the challenge.

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