Jewish Agency chairman: It’s time for Jews — within Israel and around the world — to unite

JAFI Chairman Doron Almog says Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora must support each other in these difficult times; hopes to see 1 million Jews make aliyah in the next few years

It’s time for the Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora to unite in support of each other, as Israel fights a multi-front battle and world Jewry contends with a sharp rise in antisemitism, Doron Almog, executive chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), told eJewishPhilanthropy this week ahead of Israel’s 76th Independence Day.

Almog, who was appointed chairperson of the quasi-governmental organization in August 2022 following a lengthy search for a successor to now-President Isaac Herzog, told eJP that it is essential now, more than ever, for Jewish communities and communal organizations worldwide to work more closely together and to initiate more joint ventures in order to strengthen world Jewry.

“There are many, many Jewish organizations, and it is time for more cooperation,” emphasized Almog, a retired army major general who previously headed the IDF’s Southern Command, which includes the Gaza Strip. “It is time for us to stand together and decide how to navigate ourselves against this wave of antisemitism.”

“The traditional role of the Jewish Agency is to strengthen Jewish communities all over the world, among them Jewish students on campuses in America,” he added, referring to the anti-Israel protests and encampments at prominent universities.

Almog said the agency has more than 100 Israel Fellows working on U.S. campuses to support Jewish students and work with them to combat antisemitism. Additionally, he said, around 250 shlichim, or Israeli emissaries, are working in communities across the country.

Since Oct. 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel murdering, raping and kidnapping hundreds of men, women and children – and sparking an all-out war with the IDF in the Palestinian enclave – JAFI’s traditional role as a bridge between the Jewish state and the Jewish world has become even more critical, he said.

Founded before Israel creation, JAFI’s initial role was to encourage aliyah and facilitate the absorption of thousands of Jewish immigrants arriving in the emerging state. While it has continued to fulfill that role, over the years the agency has evolved into a $400 million multinational institution — essentially working as an umbrella organization for world Jewry — ensuring that Israel and the Jewish Diaspora remain intertwined.

In his interview with eJP, Almog described how JAFI has expanded its emissary programs over the past seven months, sending Israelis, including soldiers and survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks, to share testimony and eyewitness accounts with Jews in the U.S., South America and Europe.

It has also been working to bring Jews from around the world to Israel — both as new immigrants and as volunteers to bear witness and boost morale in the country as the war in Gaza enters its eighth month. The agency, Almog highlighted, is also acting as an important funnel for Jewish philanthropy, enabling Jewish communities to play a part in helping to rebuild the communities destroyed and damaged by the war.

“We have strengthened the number of partnerships between Jewish communities overseas and here – almost doubling the number of partnerships,” Almog said.

Before the war, he said, the number of twinned communities was 43. Since Oct. 7, that number has swelled to some 80 partnerships, through an initiative known as Communities2Gether, an important step in strengthening the roughly 150,000 Israelis who have been evacuated from their communities in southern and northern Israel.

Almog said the agency was facilitating multiple projects to assist the devastated communities, including resilience programs, financial support and centers working to repopulate the areas hardest hit. Almog’s own relatives from Kibbutz Kfar Aza — Nadav Goldstein Almog and Yam Goldstein Almog — were murdered and the rest of the family — Chen Goldstein Almog and her three children, Agam, 17, Gal, 11 and Tal, 9 — were kidnapped by Hamas and later released. 

Doron Almog, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, shows something on his phone to his cousin, Tal Goldstein Almog, at Schneider Children's Hospital after the boy was released from Hamas captivity in November.
Doron Almog, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, shows something on his phone to his cousin, Tal Goldstein Almog, at Schneider Children’s Hospital after the boy was released from Hamas captivity in November. (Courtesy)

“It is Memorial Day in Israel and of course we are all in grief and sorrow, but I think we are strong, determined and decisive to return to our communities and rebuild the Gaza envelope and the communities in the north of Israel,” said Almog, who after retiring from the military helped to establish a residential and outpatient rehabilitation center for children, teens and young adults with severe disabilities. 

Formerly called ALEH, the center located near the southern Israeli town of Ofakim, was renamed for his son Eran, who passed away in 2007, aged 23 and who was a resident there. Almog said the center now works to rehabilitate survivors of the Oct. 7 massacre, as well as soldiers. 

“I’m certain we’ve got the spirit, not only for fighting but also to build a better Israel, one that is more inclusive, more loving and a more caring society of tikkun olam,” Almog added. “When we speak about absolute victory, the victory will be to establish a better State of Israel, a model society that illuminates a way for ourselves.”

Part of that rebuilding, said the agency chairman, is to encourage aliyah – or at least bring more Jews to visit Israel.

According to the latest figures shared by JAFI with eJP, there has been a 300% increase in the number of people inquiring about aliyah or opening files with the agency’s representatives worldwide. The largest increase has been in France, with a 191% increase, followed by Canada with a 99% increase, the U.S. with a 65% increase and the U.K. seeing a 39% rise in people opening files. (This is only the first in a multi-stage immigration process.) 

“We have seen growing interest from all over the world,” Almog said. “Right now, during wartime, I don’t believe we will bring more than a year ago, but my assessment is that by the end of this year about 40,000 or maybe even more will come.”

Since Israel’s last Independence Day, 34,610 people have made aliyah, most of them — 22,450 — from Russia, according to Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Ministry.

“Over the next few years, I want to bring 1 million Jews to Israel, as a way to support us and help us get out of this horrific crisis,” he stated, adding, “Israel’s growth engine is olim [new immigrants].”  

“How do we guarantee the future of the State of Israel?” Almog asked. “We must decide what kind of Jewish state we want, and at the moment I am thinking that we must make it more of an inclusive society.”

“We need to be more tolerant among ourselves and we must not allow ourselves to go back to the days before Oct. 7,” he said, referring to the internal division over the government’s plans to reshape and weaken the country’s judiciary. “We must not go back to the polarization that split society and being on the verge of civil war, the inner hatred and polarization… We need to make Israel a better place to live.”