Securing the Future: The Jewish Agency’s New Plan

To: Members of the Board of Governors

Dear Friends,

After many months of very intensive work by both the Strategic Committee and the professional staff, we are pleased to send you the attached new proposed strategic plan.

This is an appropriate opportunity to thank each member of the Strategic Planning Committee and the staff of the Jewish Agency for the months of unstinting hard work in forging this plan.

During the last few months of deliberations, the plan was entitled “Redefining the Jewish Agency’s Strategic Plan” and our aim was to take the Agency’s eternal vision, “To ensure the future of a connected, committed, global Jewish People with a strong Israel at its center” as a foundation for shaping a renewed mission for the Jewish Agency, one that is aligned with today’s realities, exigencies and challenges facing us.

We believe the committee has accomplished this goal, and we are pleased to submit this to you in the attachment, “Securing the future: Forging a new Jewish agency for Israel and the Jewish people.”

This lengthy and arduous process required honest and frank discussion about the Agency, its unique role, its programs, goals directions, and performance. Input was required from all of JAFI’s major stakeholder groups and leaders, and involved analysis of not just the Jewish Agency, but also of the larger stakeholder groups represented and of the Jewish world at large.

The result, we believe, is a fair representation of the challenges we face, a sensible framework for approaching them, and a pragmatic outline of what must be done within the Agency’s capabilities.

All effective planning includes tough choices, and this process was no exception. It follows on past tremendous progress in transforming our Agency’s structure to reflect changes in economic reality and to improve management and efficiency. The focus here is on the Agency’s mission and its strategies for improving the state of the global Jewish world.

I urge you to read the plan carefully in advance of the meetings. The Plenary at which it will be presented and discussed will also feature a multimedia presentation of the plan that will be best understood and appreciated if you are already familiar with the content. This will allow a richer and more meaningful discussion at the session.

We look forward to hearing your candid reaction and your views regarding our mission, strategies and plans for the future.

Richard Pearlstone
Natan Sharansky


  1. The Timeless Vision for the Jewish Agency
  2. The Jewish Agency in its first 80 years
  3. The Unique Nature of the Jewish Agency
  4. The World has Changed
  5. Identity is the Foundation
  6. The Revised Focus of the Jewish Agency
  7. Strategic Assumptions
  8. Mission
  9. Focus on the Young
  10. Key Strategies
  11. Partnership: the Key Mode of Operation
  12. Jewish Agency Content DNA
  13. Goals
  14. Program Portfolio
  15. Creating an Organizational Culture of Vitality
  16. Six Litmus Tests
  17. Revised Mission: Shaping a new Spectrum of Programs
  18. Next Steps

1. The Timeless Vision for the Jewish Agency

The work of the Jewish Agency has always been driven by an enduring vision; the vision was most recently reaffirmed in 2004, and it remains true and pertinent as we look to secure the Jewish world’s tomorrow: To ensure the future of a connected, committed, global Jewish People with a strong Israel at its center.

2. The Jewish Agency in its first 80 years

It is a vision embodied in an 80-year history in which the Jewish Agency has played a number of different roles but has always remained relevant by adapting to the specific challenges and needs of Israel and the Jewish People.

Over the past 80 years, the Jewish Agency has served as the government of the State of Israel in the making, and, since 1948, as the Jewish People’s central, global organization and the main facilitator for relations between the world Jewish community and the Jewish homeland of Israel. It has built an extraordinary record of achievement – enabling the Aliya of more than two million Jews before 1989 and the mass Aliya of a further one million Jews from the former Soviet Union since 1989; building kibbutzim and moshavim that, quite literally, defined the borders of the State of Israel; caring for youth-at-risk through Youth Aliya; helping revitalize development towns and depressed neighborhoods through Project Renewal. Since 1994, this work has continued through Partnership 2000, a program that engages Jews and Israelis in multiple and diverse activities that improve the quality of life of residents of towns and regions throughout Israel while creating channels for direct dialogue between Israelis and Jews around the world. From being intimately involved in helping resolve some of Israel’s social challenges, emerges a significant sense of Jewish identity. The Jewish Agency has strengthened Jewish education around the globe through an emphasis on the centrality of Israel, connecting an entire young generation of world Jewry to Israel through transformative short and long-term experiences to Israel and particularly birthright and MASA.

3. The Unique Nature of the Jewish Agency

The Jewish Agency is a unique organization that fulfils a role within world Jewry that no other body can fulfill. As the global Jewish table, Jews from many backgrounds, countries, outlooks and ideologies can meet and dialogue, act together to address challenges of the Jewish People, and express shared commitment to Israel. Serving as the embassy of World Jewry in Israel, the Jewish Agency has an unparalleled partnership with the Government of Israel – a special status that is embodied in Israeli law. No less, our governance and philanthropic support encapsulate the very essence of partnership, between the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and philanthropists in Israel.

Uniquely positioned and uniquely structured, we have an exceptional role – and a shared responsibility to use that role to create a vibrant future for the Jewish People and the State of Israel, as the collective enterprise of the Jewish world.

4. The World has Changed

The world has changed and continues to change. Not just in Israel and not just among the Jewish People, but in the larger world in which Jews live and of which Israel is a part.

Israel is the vision and venture of the Jewish People. Her resilience, vitality and strength are of critical importance to the Jewish world. Israel today is physically developed and economically robust, yet there are numerous vulnerable populations that are under-served: for example, youth at risk, Ethiopian olim, and those on the social periphery.

These multiple challenges remain stubbornly resistant to legislative solutions by a sovereign government and local authorities.

The classic Zionist spirit that characterizes Israelis as actively coping with the tough challenges of life is less well developed in the areas of civil society. A significant factor that impacts the motivation of young Israelis is that they do not feel connected to the Jewish People and Jewish values, a phenomenon that undermines worldwide Jewish solidarity as well.

Similarly, a sense of Jewish belonging around the world is weakening as succeeding generations of Jews are offered – and accept – choices for lifestyle and identity that were unthinkable for Jews only decades ago. This correlates with a weakening commitment to the State of Israel as younger Jews feel less affinity with and, in some cases, ambivalence and indifference towards an Israel that was a defining component of identity for earlier generations.

Parallel to the threats are many opportunities that provide promising prospects.

There is a growing openness to the world; the opportunity for individuals to have and express multiple complementary identities; the potential of globalization that makes it increasingly easy for people to spend extended periods of time in other countries; and modern technology that provides opportunities for the creation of new communities and networks on a worldwide level. There is a growing interest and commitment to service and volunteerism among the younger generation who are seeking to make a difference in the world; there is a revival of national and ethnic pride; and a growing search for meaning and hunger for spirituality. In partnership with the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency has developed a new paradigm for Israeli involvement in strengthening Jewish communities around the world. It signals that Israel, matched by the commitment of world Jewry, is exploring a way of helping to address the weakening sense of belonging to the Jewish People.

In light of these changes and realities, what course of action should the Jewish Agency now forge to secure the Jewish future?

5. Identity is the Foundation

Natan Sharansky believes that a strong identity is a basic building block of human existence and the key to developing our capacity to improve the world. Social scientists define and describe identity as being comprised of the emotional, behavioral and cognitive components – sometimes referred to as ABCs of identity (Affect, Behavior, Cognition). Each of these aspects can serve as a gateway to strengthening Jewish identity and connections:

  • Know: One can know that they are Jewish and understand the meaning of their own Jewish life and connectedness to other Jews, to Israel and to Jewish ideas, values, history and heritage. Here, formal and informal education and other knowledge acquisition activities add to the individual’s identity and sense of competence;
  • Feel: From our own Jewish makeup and from the shared experiences with other Jews comes the Jewish identity that is felt in the kishkes. Here are found the many ways we feel our Jewishness, from the delight we feel learning a Nobel Prize winner is Jewish to the outrage we feel when we know a Jew somewhere has been attacked. From awe at the rebirth of Israel, to pride at the resilience of Jewish ties. Feeling can be a cultural connection or a deep spiritual bond… or both and it breeds a sense of conviction;
  • Do: One can help others by undertaking activities, derived from Jewish values and commandments, through working for welfare, cultural, Zionist, religious or communal organizations. Here, simply taking an action expressing one’s Jewishness has impact on one’s personal dignity, adds to the individual’s responsibility for his or her community and generates a sense of confidence.

All three – to know, to feel, to do – are access points for one’s Jewish identity.

The beauty of learning, the joy of celebrating and the excitement at making a difference together are the wonders of experience. This insight applies to young Jews in Israel and around the world. Evocative experiences yield competence, conviction and confidence. Therefore the programs and activities of the Jewish Agency need to offer ongoing opportunities to experience all of these elements of identity. This enables Jews to continue along their personal journeys to identity, which then leads to higher levels of connectedness among Jews, greater self-worth and, finally, the power of the Jewish collective to meet every challenge.

6. The Revised Focus of the Jewish Agency

In view of the importance of strong Jewish identity and powerful experiences, the Jewish Agency must address the following challenges:

  • Declining Jewish solidarity, the weak sense of belonging to the Jewish People and the lack of meaningful connections between Israelis and world Jewry;
  • Weakening commitment to Israel, the growing distance of young Jews around the world from Israel, exacerbated by the campaign to delegitimize Israel;
  • Growing social gaps in Israel which weaken the Zionist ideal of building the state as a light unto the nations.

We can play a critical role in meeting these challenges and bring added value, not only because of our professional expertise and proven experience, but also because we are uniquely positioned as the link between the Government of Israel, the citizens of Israel and Jews around the world.

7. Strategic Assumptions

Meeting these challenges in the current era requires reconfigured approaches:

  1. Different approach to Aliya: in a time when the vast majority of Jews live in freedom, Aliya will be a choice that grows from Jewish identity and from spending extended periods of time in Israel, and therefore predominantly the pool of potential olim is among the Jewishly engaged. We will focus our efforts on this pool. The particular circumstances in the former Soviet Union will require us to tailor our efforts. The key to successful klita will be personally-tailored support and the help received from a large network of Israelis;
  2. Different approach to the role of the Jewish People in strengthening Israel: Israel is strong and robust, yet it faces unresolved challenges in its social fabric. Many of these cannot be resolved by government or local authorities alone, and the human factor is critical to make a sustainable difference. Therefore today, to strengthen Israel, the Jewish People should address its social challenges, with a particular focus on empowering and mobilizing young Israeli activists;
  3. Different approach to education about Israel around the Jewish world: at a time when Israel inspires, alienates and compels, and there is an escalation in efforts to discredit Israel, a more sophisticated approach to Israel education is needed, especially when it comes to engaging our young people. We have to offer a wide variety of content, and a multiplicity of approaches to ongoing and growing engagement with Israel around the Jewish world;
  4. Different approach to partnership: in an era when inherited identities are less potent, strong connections can only be based on meaningful encounters. Therefore, creating a sense of Jewish belonging requires a wide variety of models and sustainable people-to-people content-rich connections. While we must be proactive and position ourselves strategically in creating and using these models, we are helped by the opportunities that technology and social networks present to sustain contact between people in different corners of the world;
  5. Different approach to leadership: given the evolving challenges of the Jewish world that affect all segments of the Jewish People, the Jewish Agency should be proactive in building bridges, problem solving, and ensuring the diverse talents of the Jewish People are mobilized to meet those challenges;
  6. Different approach to partnering with the Government of Israel: as the Israeli government increasingly recognizes its responsibility to strengthen the Jewish People worldwide, the Jewish Agency should advocate for the government’s investment in this new paradigm.

8. Mission

The Jewish Agency’s vision is translated into the mission to: Inspire Jews throughout the world to Connect with their People, heritage and homeland, and Empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel.

At the same time, we will continue to serve as the Jewish People’s emergency first responder, retaining our preparedness for Aliya of rescue, and being ready to assist in crises in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.

9. Focus on the Young

Given that the main concern within the challenges discussed here is found with the younger generation, the Jewish Agency’s activity should focus on all young Jews aged 13-35 years.

10. Key Strategies

Based on the mission we propose three key strategies:

  • Connect through a continuum of Israel and Peoplehood experiences through to Aliya;
  • Inspire through leaders, educators and role models as change agents for Israel and Jewish Peoplehood programming;
  • Empower through creative social activism in Israel in the service of vulnerable populations and an inspiring society.

11. Partnership: the Key Mode of Operation

As the global Jewish table, the Jewish Agency is itself a partnership of world Jewry, and a partnership between world Jewry and the State of Israel, and partnership itself is a hallmark of our operation.

On the programmatic level, it particularly finds expression in Partnership 2000, which captures the Jewish Agency’s potential when it uses its unique positioning to envision, enable and invigorate local and thematic partnerships infused with Jewish Agency Content DNA. The Jewish Agency will enhance Partnership 2000 and create a diverse network of partnerships infused with content, common interest, purpose and shared desired outcomes.

Partnership will also guide our operational methods. As both an operating agency and a strategic agency, we will choose the most effective method of addressing a need through collaboration, support or operation, and strive to not duplicate existing efforts.

12. Jewish Agency Content DNA

All programs will be infused with four Jewish-Zionist values that create our unique content DNA:

  • Connecting a Jew and her People (Bein Adam l’Amo): the fundamental idea that Jews share history and destiny;
  • Connecting a Jew and his Heritage (Bein Adam l’Morashto): the wellspring of Jewish civilization as a source of intellectual inspiration, spiritual ideals and cultural values;
  • Connecting a Jew and her Land (Bein Adam l’Arzo): Israel as the spiritual, cultural and physical homeland for all Jews;
  • Connecting a Jew and his Community and Society (Bein Adam l’Hevrato): the embodiment of the Zionist spirit – the responsibility of the individual to address actively Jewish collective challenges.

13. Goals

By undertaking the above strategies, infused with the content DNA, we will address the following goals:

  1. Expand the multi-faceted significance of Israel in the identity of young Jews around the world;
  2. Strengthen solidarity and the commitment among Jews to build up the Jewish collective (Klal Israel);
  3. Increase the number of Jews who make Aliya, with a particular focus on those who do so as the fulfillment of their Jewish identity;

Increase the number and impact of young Israelis and Jews worldwide, motivated by Jewish values, who aid vulnerable populations and address the major challenges of Israeli civil society. Assessing our success in meeting these goals requires a new approach to measurement which is both quantitative and qualitative: we will need to develop a systemic use of careful follow-up with a representative sample of our program participants, adopt benchmarks, and carefully analyze the findings to check that our goals are truly impacting the nature of Jewish identity and the sense of belonging to the Jewish People.

14. Program Portfolio

The Jewish Agency will focus its effort to embody its new mission through this portfolio of programs, a portfolio which we are uniquely positioned to implement because of our professional expertise and experience. While the basic approach of the program portfolio is worldwide, its detailed implementation will take into consideration differing geographic realities, and the different capacities and needs of local communities.

Connect through a continuum of Israel and Peoplehood experiences through to Aliya, and systemically increase the number of participants in the following programs:

  • Birthright Israel: Enhance and enrich the partnership;
  • Ongoing Israel engagement: implement wide-ranging outreach to Israel program alumni to retain their involvement, and stimulate further participation in programming;
  • Summer Programs: Innovative shorter programs, up to two months in length, that will bridge the gap that exists today between birthright and MASA;
  • MASA: Expand MASA and develop two new initiatives: include young Israelis in many of our long-term Israel experience programs and develop shared Tikkun Olam tracks;
  • Tailored Aliya Tracks: Realize the full integration of Aliya and identity-building programming by developing tailored Aliya tracks for young adults that enable them to try out life in Israel;
  • Aliya Service Center: Ensure that all olim receive the personal attention and quality of service that are so vital while they make the decision to make Aliya and during their period of initial integration;
  • Inspire through leaders, educators and role models as change agents for Israel and Jewish Peoplehood programming;
  • Educators’ Institute: we will enrich groups of educators from Israel and the Jewish world about the place of the Jewish People and Israel in their personal identity, and will inspire them professionally to create compelling and engaging programming for young Jews;
  • Leadership corps: recruit, engage and train young leaders from Israel and the Jewish world to assume the responsibilities of sustaining the global Jewish People;
  • Young role models: prepare thousands of young Israelis to infuse summer camps, communities and campuses with creative ideas and programming energy; use them, together with leading MASA participants, to create and implement programming for young Israelis about Jewish life around the world;
  • Training Leaders of Jewish Educational Tours: educational staff of Israel experience and Jewish group journeys will receive training and mentoring on the design of programs so that young participants in these visits are truly inspired and engaged.
  • Empower through social activists in Israel in the service of vulnerable populations and an inspiring society: create a powerful engine of thousands of young Israelis, suffused with Jewish-Zionist content, who serve populations in need in Israel for a substantial period of time, focusing on for example youth at risk, education and absorption, including:
  • Israeli gap-year service arena: With a focus on youth at risk and education, scale up the “service gap-year” (Shin-shin) of young people dedicating a pre-army year for communal-living-based social activism.
  • The initiative will improve the quality of service, be infused with Jewish-Zionist content, and enriched through encounters with the Jewish world;
  • Group-based service arena: service performed by a group of activists is significantly more influential than service performed individually – both in the impact on the target populations and on the identity of the activists themselves. There are a number of service-models in Israel that are group-based, such as young communities or student villages. We will work to develop new group-based models, to scale-up the arena in Israel’s center, to develop new intervention models and to systematically infuse Jewish-Zionist content to the arena;
  • Trustees arena: Young adults working as “trustees” in the service of children and youth at risk, in a very intensive, holistic “case management” approach for a long period of time;
  • Klita activists: Dramatically expand the network of young adults who provide ongoing person-to-person support to enable new immigrants to absorb successfully into social and educational frameworks.

Through empowering young Israeli activists, world Jewry retains its collective commitment to strengthening Israeli society, a commitment that encapsulates the vision of Israel as the shared enterprise of all Jews.

The program portfolio will be operated in partnership with the Government of Israel and other bodies, and will run in tandem with the Jewish Agency’s constant readiness to respond to crises and emergency needs in the Jewish world and parallel to activities requested and supported by the Government of Israel.

15. Creating an Organizational Culture of Vitality

At the same time, we must modify and re-energize our organizational culture to:

  • Infuse and retain young energy into the Board of Governors and operations;
  • Enable maximum flexibility and creativity in executing the organizational strategies;
  • Build feedback mechanisms that allow a continuing dynamic of change to stay relevant to Jewish needs the world over.

16. Six Litmus Tests

We believe that all Jewish Agency programs must meet six litmus tests:

  • Will it make a difference?
  • Is it doable?
  • Will the Jewish Agency add value?
  • Is it measurable?
  • Is it marketable?
  • Is it fundable?

17. Revised Mission: Shaping a new Spectrum of Programs

In coordination with the Government of Israel and other partners we will phase out of those programs that do not align with the mission. Programs that are aligned with the revised mission will be examined for their ability to make a difference to our strategic goals, their unique added value and the degree to which they are compelling to donors. Based on these criteria, some programs will need to be revised or refocused, while others will need to be expanded; indeed, some of our current fields of activity will become the signature programs of our redefined mission.

18. Next Steps

After discussion and approval by the Strategic Planning Committee, the Jewish Agency Executive and the Board of Governors, in the coming months the senior professional leadership of the Jewish Agency together with the Strategic Planning Committee will address the following issues:

  • Review of all current programs against the criteria of new strategies in order to determine their alignment and relevance to the new mission;
  • Test the ideas and the plans in focus groups;
  • Detailed planning and feasibility studies of proposed new initiatives;
  • Development of new structure and budget;
  • Development of FRD goals and approaches;
  • Modifying organizational culture;
  • Review of geographic considerations and priorities.

A more detailed plan will be presented to the Board of Governors in October.