OTZMA to Close

The Jewish Federations of North America has announced that at the close of the current year’s program they will close OTZMA, a long-term Israel program launched during the mid-1980’s.

The announced closure is not sitting well with OTZMA alumni.

First, Jerry Silverman’s announcement letter followed by a link to an alumni-initiated petition to reverse the decision.

From: Desk of Jerry Silverman
Sent: Thursday, November 01, 2012 8:24 AM
Subject: The Otzma Program

Dear friends and colleagues,

As a program way ahead of its time, with a unique approach to engaging young adults in Israel and the Jewish community, OTZMA began in 1986 and started an international trend. It provided a 10-month opportunity for young Jewish adults to live in Israel, learn Hebrew and volunteer in small communities in partnership with their local Jewish Federations.

Today, there are more than 200 Israel programs for young Jewish adults, built upon OTZMA’s shoulders, and many offer similarly extraordinary experiences. As a result, at the end of this academic year, JFNA has decided to stop implementing OTZMA as a stand-alone Jewish Federations’ Israel experience program. JFNA will continue to work with existing Israel experience programs, such as Masa Israel Journey, to provide the crucial bridge to Federations that an Israel experience can and should offer, and to ensure they complement our many Young Adult programs and services.

Through OTZMA, we are proud to have sent more than 1,400 Jewish young adults from nearly 100 communities in North America to Israel. The program helped to develop young leaders around the Jewish community, and created strong connections to Israel and the Jewish Federation world. After returning from OTZMA, more than 60 percent of alumni served as professionals or volunteers in their Jewish communities.

OTZMA’s Class XXVII will finish out the remainder of their Israel experience, and JFNA will explore transferring the program to another organization or program provider for future classes.

As we conclude OTZMA, we want to recognize the tireless work of so many volunteers and professionals that made the program such a success. We are incredibly proud of what OTZMA has accomplished in its nearly three decades of existence, and of our hundreds of OTZMA alumni that have made – and continue to make – an impact on the Jewish world.

Jerry Silverman
President and CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America

Petitioning The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA): Let OTZMA Live

We, the extended OTZMA family, are shocked and appalled by the decision by The Jewish Federations of North America to end the premiere Israel experience program for post-college young adults. We urge JFNA to reverse its decision and to reconsider whether it truly wants to shutter a program that has such a positive impact on its own Federation movement, not to mention other Jewish philanthropic organizations, as well as communities in Israel and in the Diaspora.

OTZMA has given hundreds of young American Jews an immersive and meaningful year experience in Israel in a way that no other short- or long-term program is able to do. Its dynamic education curriculum takes participants on study tours throughout the year to enhance their understanding of what they experience in their daily life, placing topics featured the news media into their proper context. By living in both major cities as well as towns in the periphery, OTZMAnikim return to North America with a greater understanding of the challenges these communities face, and how they, as emerging leaders, can play a part in building a better future for the Jewish people, both in Israel and the Diaspora.

By deciding to end OTZMA, JFNA is missing an incredible opportunity to build leaders for the Federation movement who have a strong and real understanding of Israel and Israeli society. OTZMAnikim spend a full third of their year living and volunteering in their Partnership 2Gether communities, which pair a North American Jewish community with one in Israel, partnerships that are supported and funded by the Federation movement. OTZMA ensures that these leaders of the future have a real understanding of how Federations work, how their philanthropic efforts seek to effect change in Israel, and how they can connect to their local Federation when the program ends.

If it is truly not interested in running OTZMA, we urge JFNA to help OTZMA find an organizational home that will allow it to thrive and to continue for a 28th year of programming, and one that will allow it to continue working with the partnership communities who look forward to welcoming a new group of OTZMAnikim every year.

It is worth reading OTZMA’s mission and history to realize just how much will be lost if the program is allowed to be shut down …

The complete petition can be found here.

We are expecting additional information from JFNA and will update this posting at that time.