By Dvir Kahana
The Jewish people are once again facing enormous challenges. From Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip to the firebombing of synagogues in France and Germany, our nation is under attack.
What should give us hope though is the amazing resilience, unity and solidarity we are witnessing across the globe – from Israelis who refuse to surrender to Hamas terror, to the thousands of Jews in Paris and Johannesburg who took to the streets in recent weeks to demonstrate their support for Israel despite the surrounding hostile environment.
This sense of unity and solidarity is exactly what we are striving to foster with the establishment of the Government of Israel-World Jewry Initiative, launched to ensure the security and growth of the Jewish people while enhancing the connection between Jews everywhere and the State of Israel.
Just over two months ago, the government passed a resolution approving the establishment of the Initiative as well as the allocation of significant government funding to enable its success. Proposed jointly by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, the resolution passed almost unanimously, a demonstration of how, in the case of the Diaspora, politics did not play a role.
Since then, work on the Initiative has been intensive. On the one hand, the Initiative is all about creating a partnership – of bringing different people and voices together, especially those who until now have sat on the sidelines and were not a part of the traditional organized Jewish world.
The second challenge has been to create a strategic plan for Jews aged 12 to 35, one that will look at the entire Jewish world, take every community into account, review existing programs, scale up some and establish new ones where needed.
We imagine something like a highway with dozens of stops along the way. Each stop is a program aimed at strengthening Jewish identity and enhancing young Jews’ connection to the State of Israel.
It could be a Bat Mitzvah program, a summer camp experience or an immersive trip to Israel. If someone wants, they will be able to get off the highway at the stop, experience the program and then get back on, until the next stop.
The Initiative will identify and empower educators and potential Jewish leaders. It will establish digital communities and databases that will enable continuous follow-up no matter where someone might live.
Birthright began 15 years ago. But since then, we – the Jewish people – have yet to establish another project of that scale and scope. Under this Initiative we envision the establishment of possibly dozens of programs that could serve as templates and be adpated for Jewish communities everywhere.
But the creation of such a “highway” takes time. It takes time to map out, to outline and to build. It takes time to even attempt to get it right.
It is tempting to put this aside and to, instead, take the new government money and dive straight into launching pilot programs – to scale up an existing program and launch a new one.
Our feeling though is that this would be against the spirit of what the Initiative is supposed to be and would also do a disservice to the Jewish people. For this Initiative to have a chance at succeeding, it needs to be given the chance to evolve into something of a strategic nature. Not just more of the same.
This Initiative was born out of an understanding that something needs to change. What exists is simply not working. When it came to the United States and Britain, as examples, the Pew Report and the National Jewish Community Survey made clear that what we currently are doing is not enough.
This does not mean that pilots will not be launched. They will, likely in the beginning of 2015. But first, we need to complete three main tasks – to contemplate what the strategic “highway” will look like, to establish effective and lean governance for the Initiative and to raise significant resources from across the Jewish World so it can succeed.
In recent months, many different organizations have turned to us requesting that the ministry use the new government funds to help scale up their existing programs. To all, we have said no. Not because their programs were not worthy but rather because the Initiative is not about creating another fund. It is about creating a new plan of strategic proportions.
All of this together will allow the fulfillment of the Initiative’s main objectives – to create a true partnership between the Government of Israel and the Jewish World while financing and implementing a plan that will ensure a vibrant Jewish future for generations to come.
Dvir Kahana is the director general of the Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.