by Abigail Pickus
The Israeli Government has tapped the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to expand the number of young shlichim (emissaries) it sends abroad as a way to strengthen Diaspora Jewry’s connection to Israel and to counteract rising anti-Israel sentiment.
“People make the difference. When a young Israeli becomes the face of Israel for those who don’t come to Israel on a regular basis then Israel is real,” said Alon Futterman, the Jewish Agency’s shlichut development director.
With that in mind, 150 young emissaries – up from the usual 75 – will be sent around the world to live and work within Jewish communities and on university campuses as the most effective “hasbara” for Israel.
It’s all part of the Jewish Agency’s new strategic direction.
“The idea is to grow as many schlichim as possible to go to as many destinations all over the world,” according to Futterman. An emphasis will be placed on college campuses, which are often hotbeds for anti-Israel activism. With this new campaign, 50 – or one third of the total number – will be placed on campuses around the globe, with the majority going to North America.
What differentiates this new shlichut project is that it targets university students who proved to be leaders of the social revolt that catapulted Israel over the summer.
“After what we saw here this summer with the social demonstrations we understood that students not only have the capability and quality, but are definitely the right people to go out and talk about the Israel they care about,” said Futterman. “2012 is a very easy time to live outside of Israel and here they choose to live in Israel. These are people who were fighting for their rights in the areas of education, welfare and more. There were 100,000 people in streets over the summer and these are the people we are looking for to tell the story of Israel in 2012.”
The Jewish Agency is offering interested university students a sweet bonus – a scholarship for their final year of their first degree. The intention is for schlichut, with a commitment of at least one year, to become an established route within Israeli society after the completion of a B.A. and before embarking on a second degree.
Originally, Israel’s National Student Union joined JAFI in launching the project, but soon after Pesach, a scholarship fund offered by the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as ISES, the International Foundation for Education, one of the strongest foundations in Israel, joined the mix.
“This is all new and exciting,” said Futterman. “If the Jewish Agency in the past was the leading player in schilichut, suddenly we have not only the Israeli Government, but also important student bodies and social organizations all saying they want to partner with us on this new initiative. They are all investing in this not just in the theoretical sense but also [monetarily]. It is a true partnership. ”
The call has already been put out for applicants and so far, hundreds of young people have applied. The final 150 chosen will receive special training in Jewish life in the Diaspora, how to run hasbara outside of Israel, how to counter organizations that delegitimize Israel and other content that will be useful for their shlichut ahead, according to Futterman.
The emissaries will be sent abroad over the summer and will begin their postings in the Fall, to coincide with the beginning of the school year.
This new shlichut initiative is in addition to the ongoing emissaries of all ages that the Jewish Agency regularly sends abroad everywhere from Jewish summer camps to Jewish communities. Futterman estimates that the Jewish Agency sends an average of 500 emissaries abroad for long-term placement and over 2,000 on shorter missions every year.
He added that the goal is to continue to increase the number of emissaries being sent out and that the support of multiple partners guarantees the long-term sustainability of the project.