A Reimagined Mifgash

By Jeffrey Solomon and Alon Friedman

Jewish peoplehood relies on connectivity. Yet two of our strongest tools, education and experiential learning, are struggling and imperiled by the current pandemic. If travel continues to be limited for an extended period, can virtual mifgashim (encounters) fill the vacuum?

We believe young people from the Diaspora and Israel can be paired within a framework that strengthens their Jewish literacy while at the same time nourishes their personal and professional interests.

This is why Enter, a new Jewish peoplehood start-up, is pioneering a reimagined mifgash designed for Israeli and Diaspora teens. This new program, dubbed One2One, is an individualized, virtual encounter that does not rely on travel. We are recruiting from existing networks and aim to fill a gaping hole in Israel-Diaspora programing: peer-to-peer teen engagement.

We feel a special sense of urgency to leverage the pandemic in ways that strengthen solidarity and increase awareness across the Jewish world. The program is being piloted during the 2020-21 academic year, as part of a joint effort with Israel’s Education and Diaspora Affairs ministries – and hundreds of Israeli high school students are already queued to participate.

Surveys show that Jews worldwide believe they share a common future, despite knowing relatively little about the lived realities of other Jewish societies. By strengthening education and deepening awareness, we believe World Jewry will be better positioned to embrace what unites us, yet also more prepared to grapple with issues that divide us.

One2One, and our new venture Enter, are supported and inspired by legendary philanthropist Charles Bronfman, whose pioneering vision for Birthright/Taglit has made an outsized impact on the Jewish future.

Enter’s mission is to ensure the Jewish people remain a dynamic, diverse, global community that is united, secure and inclusive. At Enter, we are building a platform to support innovative programs in the fields of education, public awareness and measurement.

We are building off the accomplishments of those already hard at work shaping the field of Jewish peoplehood. And we are fortunate to be supported by the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation (California), the Koret Foundation (California), the Nadav Fund (Israel), other funders from around the Jewish world.

Back to One2One.

We know that immersive and relationship-based exchange programs have proved effective. But these must be adapted. Even before the pandemic, there was increasing realization that these programs are too heavily weighted in favor of Diaspora participation, a key finding of a groundbreaking study from the Sapir Center.

Greater mutuality is key.

We want to allow young people from different societies the opportunity to discover their own sense of shared fate.

Many youth-focused encounter programs target college age and young adults in the Diaspora. Teens are often not in the picture, even though recent research reveals they are receptive to more connectivity with Israel, with many already anticipating future travel.

One2One is also designed to tap into the high priority Israeli educators place on English language fluency, viewed as a critical professional skill and a key measure of Israel’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Through task-based, collaborative work, One2One will take the traditional Israel-Diaspora mifgash to a new level.

Our aim is for this program to strike an emotional chord by nurturing meaningful personal connections and creating lasting bonds. We are also designing the program to meet educational goals of strengthening literacy, both in terms of Jewish peoplehood and language skills.

The incentive structure for Israeli teens draws on built-in elements already approved by educational authorities, including graduation and matriculation (bagrut) requirements. For Diaspora teens, we are developing less formal, micro-targeted, and tailor-made incentives tied to recruitment networks.

Initially, we are recruiting in North America and the UK via community institutions and youth movements. Diverse and representative participation is a high priority and is being embedded into the recruitment process.

We believe this innovative project is well-suited to current conditions and can compensate for the contraction in Israel-Diaspora encounters. At the same time, it is structured for the long-term and will be positioned to develop and grow post-COVID.

We invite new partners to join us. Together, we can realize this vision of a more united, more connected Jewish people.

Jeffrey Solomon, the former president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, currently serves as a Senior Advisor to Chasbro, the family office of Charles Bronfman.

Alon Friedman is the Founding CEO of Enter: the Jewish Peoplehood Alliance.