The Jewish Agency Faces the Future

At the recent meetings of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors the implementation side of the new strategic plan was unveiled, approved and is now beginning to be put in place.

Organizationally the big change is the flatlining of the operational structure – gone are the silos, and the mini-fortresses that developed around them. In it’s place, six new program units structured to allow for improved synergies among the various operating units. The powerful positions of Director-Generals of the various departments have been replaced with a series of Deputy Director-Generals and program unit heads. As to key personnel, several have had their roles lessened, others have clearly moved up the organizational ladder. Amira Aharonovich, the new Deputy Director-General (DDG) for planning, Hasia Israeli, DDG for customer relations and Josh Schwarcz, DDG for government relations all fit into this latter category. Two former Director-Generals have moved into new roles – Eli Cohen, formerly of the Aliyah Department, is now DDG of global operations and Leah Golan, formerly of the Israel Department, is now DDG for programs.

In keeping with the operational changes taking place, all current Board committees are being sunset. A new committee structure is expected to be announced at the June meetings.

When one considers what the Jewish Agency (JAFI) has accomplished over the past two years, the progress is really quite surprising. Not only did the organization develop a new governance structure, but JAFI designed and implemented a new strategic plan. Along the way, they’ve placed themselves at the center of the latest Knesset controversies surrounding conversion legislation and have become the lead implementer in moving Ethiopian aliyah to the next level.

Even JAFI’s most vocal supporters admit the organization generally moves at a snail’s pace, making all of this even more impressive.

Sitting through the recent meetings of the Board, the one thing that stood out was the “culture of change” moving through the organization as it embraces its new mission statement. Just as clear was how certain groups are so entrenched in the way things were they are having difficulty handling that change. As a result they are placing roadblocks wherever they can.

Only time will tell if the new direction JAFI has embarked on will be successful. The bar is high, including the need to raise significant new donations through the New York based Jewish Agency International Development arm. But being wedded to the past, and hampered at almost every turn by political apparatchiks and disgruntled employees who long for the good old days – including the patronage positions that went along with it – is a sure recipe for failure.