On the Closing of OTZMA: Another Viewpoint

by Doron Krakow

I share in the disappointment which has been so articulately expressed on the part of so many in response to the recent JFNA announcement about its planned discontinuation of support for the program at the end of the current program year. At the offices of the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which is home to the recruitment arm of BGU’s Ginsburg-Ingerman Overseas Student Program, several members of my team are veterans of the Israel Experience world and one is an Otzma alum, so as you can imagine we are saddened to see the program drawing to a close. But while JFNA and its leadership have been taking a pounding from some quarters, I believe that a larger perspective is important. The good news is that Otzma has made an extraordinary contribution to the Jewish world over the past nearly three decades.

  • It produced hundreds of professionals working on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people across North America and Israel.
  • It pioneered the world of post-university gap-year programs in Israel for young adults – and as such was a forerunner for the MASA universe of programs in this category.
  • It gave a host of federations an opportunity to actively engage a new audience and provided a medium through which federation leaders could be a part of the Israel Programs world.
  • And it was devotedly served and supported over the years by the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), United Jewish Appeal (UJA), United Jewish Communities (UJC), The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).

The federation system is to be applauded for its remarkable support for and commitment to Otzma over the years. Given the panoply of options now available to this demographic, the fact that Otzma itself is no longer a necessary program is a sign of progress, not failure. And, the impact of Otzma, by way of its alumni, will continue to be felt for many years to come.

I know it wasn’t an easy decision on the part of the JFNA leadership. But, I believe it was a sound one.

Doron Krakow is Executive Vice President, American Associates Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.