Strengthening Our Jewish Identity

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky unveiled the Jewish Agency’s new vision at the opening plenary of the Board of Governors on June 20, 2010. The Board of Governors then acted and adopted the plan with only one dissenting vote out of 200 members present.

“We will connect, inspire, and empower,” Sharansky told hundreds of participants who assembled from around the world; “the central point is to strengthen our Jewish identity, our ties with our community, with Israel, with our past and, working together, to guarantee our future.”

Historically, the Jewish Agency, whose establishment pre-dates the State of Israel, has worked to “to ensure the future of a connected, committed, global Jewish people with a strong Israel at its center.” Whether it was settling the State, building up kibbutzim and moshavim that defined the borders of Israel, caring for youth at risk and revitalizing development towns and economically depressed neighborhoods or facilitated the Aliyah and absorption of over three million Jews – the Jewish Agency has worked tirelessly on behalf of Israel and world Jewry.

But in a changing world, with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment rising across the globe and young Jews often disconnected from their culture and heritage, the Jewish Agency has re-focused its agenda to devote itself 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.”

“The heart of the message is the Jewish Agency’s role as connector of world Jewry. We will be connecting Jews to one another, engaging young Israelis with the Jewish people, and increasing the number of people who choose to come on Aliyah because of Jewish identity,” said Director General Alan Hoffmann during a public dialogue with Dr. Misha Galperin, Director of the Jewish Agency’s new Global Public Affairs and Financial Resource Development Department.

This new vision is also ideally suited as an antidote for a new century where the individual takes precedence over the communal.

In defining ‘Peoplehood’ as “Who you identify with, who you feel part of,” Galperin stressed the extraordinary power of community, which has been Judaism and Jewish civilization’s gift to the world.

In light of this, the Jewish Agency’s central platform will be Partnership 2000 (P2k), a groundbreaking program that works as a living bridge, connecting some 550 communities around the world in 45 partnerships.

Social activism will also be emphasized, particularly for young Israeli activists such as the Shin Shinim (Hebrew slang for “Shnat Sherut,” those doing a year of volunteer work before their army service) and the young communities living and working on the periphery of the country. In addition to supporting their work in Israel, the Jewish Agency will provide opportunities for these young Israelis to meet and interact with young Jews around the world so that, as Sharansky said, “They know that they are part of a bigger story than just their success in Israel.”

Programs such as Birthright and Masa that bring young Jews from across the globe to Israel will continue to be supported and nourished.

Aliyah – both Aliyah of rescue and of choice – will continue to be an integral part of the Jewish Agency’s agenda with a revamped service center ready to meet people’s needs.

Finally, the Jewish Agency will place a marked emphasis on raising funds to support its vital programs.

“I believe we can raise the money,” said Galperin in response to the question of the current economic downturn. “Jews very much care about helping other Jews in need. Jews also are interested in helping the world at large.”

Beyond that, Galperin cited a study that only 15-30% of Jewish charitable dollars go to Jewish causes, which means that “There is a lot of money out there that has not yet found its way.”

The Jewish Agency’s task now becomes “creating the programs that will inspire people to give money and bring them face to face with what we really do,” said Galperin.

Because at its core, fundraising is not just about taking money but about building community.

Referring to the portion in the chumash where Israelites gave half a shekel to be counted in the census as the “first fundraising campaign,” Galperin said that giving tzedakah was and is a way of being counted as part of belonging to the Jewish people.

Finally, the Jewish Agency will undergo structural and organizational changes to create a new organizational design and culture.

“This is a new area of movement for the agency,” said Hoffmann. “Starting in the Board of Governors here, we are involved in a major changing process to create our new strategic direction, but ultimately, our success depends on you and your communities.”