Mapping: The Next Frontier in Israel Engagement

By Pnina Agenyahu

Within the ever-evolving landscape of relations between Israel and world Jewry, one of the organized Jewish community’s most important lessons in recent years is that a “one size fits all” approach to programming does not suffice.

Rather, the success of programming geared towards cultivating global Jews’ connectedness to Israel hinges on the extent to which that programming caters to the unique characteristics of each community it serves. This is a complex paradigm to achieve due to the number of different players involved in Israel engagement, thus making it difficult to coordinate the specific activity or to locate the inspirational programs for the given community.

In principle, local Jewish communities could learn from the experiences of others who face similar challenges. Yet until now, no mechanism has existed to share data and best practices for Israel engagement across Jewish communities worldwide.

As an organization whose guiding ethos for the better part of a century has been weaving Israel and global Jewish communities into one mutually supportive family, The Jewish Agency for Israel is creating a mapping tool that addresses this challenge in Israel engagement.

In recent years, Israel engagement has become the heart and soul of The Jewish Agency’s operational strategy. Our Israel engagement opportunities in a typical Jewish community today may include programs and players such as Shlichim, the over 1,500 Israeli emissaries who strengthen connections to Israel and Jewish identity at Jewish institutions, college campuses, summer camps, and elsewhere; Partnership2Gether, which connects hundreds of Jewish and Israeli organizations and communities around the world in 46 partnerships; and Israel experiences such as Taglit-Birthright Israel and Masa Israel Journey. This wide variety of programming seeks to address a great diversity of communal and demographic needs when it comes to Israel engagement.

In order to enhance the efficiency and impact of Israel engagement, The Jewish Agency has developed a user-friendly mapping tool that helps identify key strengths and weaknesses of Israel engagement strategies on the local level, while building a data bank that can be shared across communities, facilitating shared-learning and collective impact. The new “Israel Engagement Mapping Tool” allows different Jewish communities to learn from one another and fine tune their Israel programming to achieve an optimal fit with needs and priorities locally. Following a successful pilot phase in six Jewish communities in North America, and now with another 10 communities set to join, The Jewish Agency has finalized the mapping tool and is offering it to communities throughout North America.

The tool is based on six intuitive, but crucial variables identified over the course of lengthy discussions with professional and lay leaders across the Jewish world. These key questions determine the effectiveness of local Israel engagement strategies:

  1. What are the target audiences for Israel programming?
  2. How large is each target audience?
  3. What Jewish community organizations and institutions are involved in Israel programing and how closely do they work together?
  4. Is there diversity of Israel engagement opportunities on offer with regard to different interest areas (e.g. politics, activism, culture etc.)?
  5. What is the frequency of Israel engagement activities in each segment?
  6. To what extent do the different programs in the community work together to reinforce each other?

The first three questions measure the scale and scope of Israel engagement programming. The remaining three questions touch on a program’s impact on individual participants. The underlying premises are that greater frequency for any encounter enhances its long-term impact; greater diversity of programming offers multiple opportunities for engagement; and interconnectedness between programs makes them mutually reinforcing.

Jewish communities participating in the mapping tool identify two or three professionals with a broad knowledge of Israel-related activities in the community. These professionals are asked to complete a 20-minute survey consisting of 19 questions covering the six key issues outlined above. Respondents rate several concrete instances for each variable. The final results produce a comprehensive snapshot of the Israel engagement ecosystem in that community that are analyzed by The Jewish Agency together with the community and can be compared with results from other communities to obtain deeper insights.

The following examples of results from the survey conducted in a pilot community last year illustrate the types of information that the tool can help communities generate:

By creating a tool that identifies and records individual communities’ needs, resources, and strategies, communities will benefit from increased engagement with Israel through linking several already successful programs and identifying low-risk, high-yield opportunities; enhanced utilization of their existing assets and past investments, rather than simply inventing new programs; better understanding of the community they are serving on the part of Jewish Agency staff at the headquarters and in the field (e.g. Shlichim); shared knowledge and experiences from other communities in order to determine best practices and proven strategies for engagement with Israel; and a holistic understanding and database on Israel engagement both in their own community and elsewhere.

The Israel Engagement Mapping Tool can serve as an accessible decision-making mechanism locally, while the growing bank of data from different communities can provide a holistic overview of Israel engagement throughout North America, helping maximize the ROI of existing investments on the part of all organizations involved in this effort. It is a crucial step toward building a more harmonious and integrated global Jewish family, with Israel at its center.

Pnina Agenyahu is Director of Interface and Synergy at The Jewish Agency for Israel. She can be reached at pninaa@jafi.org.