Jewish Agency Expands Service Learning Programming

The Jewish Agency for Israel announced today that Dyonna Ginsburg, an internationally-acclaimed Jewish service learning professional, has joined the organization’s New York staff as its director of service learning. Ginsburg joins the Jewish Agency from Bema’aglei Tzedek, an Israeli NGO she led that uses education and social action campaigns to create a more just Israeli society informed and inspired by Jewish values.

In her role at the Jewish Agency, Ginsburg will focus on the following priorities:

  • Expanding existing service learning opportunities for young North American Jews in Israel and creating new programs (i.e. alternative breaks and summer volunteer programs) that close the gap between short-term programs, like Taglit Birthright, and longer-term programs, such as those accredited and promoted through Masa Israel.
  • Advocating for Israel as a more important and relevant component of the North American Jewish community’s rapidly-expanding service learning movement.
  • Building structures to engage the hundreds of Jewish Agency-trained shlichim in the Jewish community’s existing service learning frameworks during and following their North America postings.
  • Connecting Taglit Birthright and Masa participants to domestic service learning opportunities upon their return from Israel.

Ginsburg is particularly worried about what she believes to be an increasingly popular notion that Tikkun Olam is an alternative to Zionism rather than a complimentary expression of Jewish identity. Ginsburg is also concerned that the service learning community regards Israel as a “third rail” vis-à-vis the Jewish social justice conversation when it could be a catalyst.

“There is a silence on all things Israel-related in much of the North American Jewish social justice community,” Ginsburg said. “The Jewish Agency has the potential to move the needle, working closely with local Jewish social justice organizations to find new ways to have nuanced conversations about the most exciting, challenging, and thorny Jewish social justice challenge of our time: the modern State of Israel.”

Earlier this year, eJewish Philanthropy published an essay, written by Ginsburg, who is also a founding member of Siach: An Environment and Social Justice Conversation and a founding board member the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism, which promotes social entrepreneurship in the Jewish community. In her piece, Ginsburg writes that the State of Israel – with its potential to leverage sophisticated instruments of statecraft in service of domestic and global justice – should be seen as a way to bridge what is sometimes a hostile divide between the Jewish community’s ‘universalist’ and ‘particularist’ camps.

“A compelling, though overlooked, solution to the aforementioned dilemma is the State of Israel,” Ginsburg writes. “Israel, as a modern nation state, has the potential to serve both as a laboratory for Tikkun Olam within its own borders and a catalyst for social change in the international arena.

“The question is not whether we should fund relief efforts in developing countries, but how we should do so and with whom. Nor is it whether we should send our college kids to Jewish service learning experiences helping non-Jews, but where we should do so and with whom… But if we are talking about priorities, and where the lion’s share of resources should go, the answer is pretty clear: Israel, Israel, Israel. When Israel is thrown into the mix, the zero sum game (between the two philosophical camps) becomes a win-win formula (of both).”