What is the Jewish Agency? Here’s a Lexicon from A to Z.

by David Breakstone

At the age of 81, it’s not easy to orient yourself to new situations, to discover that the young have drifted far from the values you cherish, and that they are oblivious to the difficulties you’ve encountered over the years and have somehow managed to overcome. Against this background, it’s particularly hard to muster the strength necessary to continue struggling for the things that remain important to you, and to do so with the vigor that came so naturally back when.

But a job is a job, and that’s what mine is all about. I’m not talking people here, but organization. The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) was founded in 1929 and needs to reinvent itself – not to justify its existence, but to do justice to the reason for which it exists.

This week, its international Board of Governors convenes in Jerusalem to confront changing realities that require JAFI to refocus if it is to continue serving as a global Jewish partnership of purpose, ensuring the future of our people with a strong and vibrant Israel at its center. Big words, but I would like to believe not too big for who we are. Which is what? Often asked, I’ve decided to lay it all out in a lexicon from A to Z.

Aliya – a mainstay of JAFI, which has facilitated the arrival of more than 3,000,000 immigrants. With aliya of rescue largely a mission accomplished, JAFI is now focusing on creating conditions encouraging aliya of choice.

Birthright Israel – has given some 250,000 Jews aged 18-26 the gift of a 10-day Israel journey, profoundly strengthening their bond to the Jewish state, Jewish heritage and the Jewish people. JAFI is a full partner in the undertaking.

Centrality of Israel – this catchphrase of the Zionist movement also embodies one of the fundamental values guiding JAFI in all it does.

Diaspora – the above notwithstanding, fundamental to the partnership that powers JAFI is esteem for the vitality of Jewish life abroad, and recognition of the need for Jews everywhere to interact in mutually enriching ways.

Education – JAFI invests over $180,000,000 annually in Jewish Zionist education and is now considering spending considerably more to ensure that future generations will be connected to their heritage, people, and land.

Former Soviet Union – long before the fall of the Iron Curtain, JAFI was actively engaged on behalf of Soviet Jewry, deeply impacting the lives of millions, facilitating their aliya and absorption, teaching them Hebrew, educating them about their heritage and providing sorely needed social services. Things came full circle when former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky was last year elected chairman of the JAFI executive.

Global Jewish partnership – JAFI’s heartbeat and the source of its strength.

Hebrew – hundreds of thousands of olim learned to communicate with their neighbors in JAFI-sponsored ulpanim.

Israel – initially the de facto government of a state-in-the- making, JAFI today recognizes its responsibility to dedicate ever-increasing resources to make of that nation an exemplary society, rooted in the vision of the prophets, and characterized by justice and equality.

Jewish Federations of North America – provides 30 percent of JAFI leadership and supplies the lion’s share of its budget, part of the $3 billion it distributes annually for social services and education.

Keren Hayesod – provides 20% of JAFI leadership and more than $43,000,000 each year for JAFI programs, raised in Diaspora Jewish communities outside the United States.

Love – for the Jewish state, the Jewish people, the Jewish heritage, the Jewish land and the Jewish future combine to make JAFI all that it is.

Masa – the JAFI framework for long-term Israel programs operating within the JAFI framework, the kind that produced 56% of the young Jewish leaders in America today according to an Avi Chai study released last month.

Nation-building – JAFI has always been on the forefront of social pioneering, sponsoring a multitude of opportunities for those inclined to make a difference.

Olim – cynics say that Israelis love aliya but could do without the olim; JAFI doesn’t think so, and invests heavily to ensure the successful integration of every new arrival.

P2K – Partnership 2000, a global JAFI platform creating living bridges between 550 communities in Israel and around the world, engaging 300,000 people annually in community action.

Quick response – JAFI’s sophisticated “situation room” operates 24/7, ensuring immediate action whenever and wherever Jews find themselves in need.

Rescue – JAFI’s rescue operations of Jewish communities in distress are the stuff of which legends are made.

Settlement – JAFI is a major partner in the work of the WZO’s Settlement Division, nurturing new communities of idealistic pioneers within the Green Line.

Tikkun olamrepairing the world is a fundamental Jewish value, consciously at the root of many JAFI initiatives.

Unity of the Jewish people – a watchword of JAFI it takes most seriously, struggling aggressively for the legitimacy in Israel of the major streams of Judaism.

World Zionist Organization – established by Theodor Herzl in 1897 to create a Jewish state, it founded JAFI in 1929 as a global Jewish partnership to further that goal. The WZO continues to impact profoundly on JAFI today, providing 50% of its leadership and a vital link to Israel’s government.

X-generation – JAFI is determined that Jews of the X-generation become its next generation and has launched numerous initiatives to that end.

Youth Futures – an innovative, interventionist JAFI initiative empowering disadvantaged youth from Israel’s geographic and socioeconomic periphery.

Zionism – See under love.

The above notwithstanding, there is scarcely an English-speaker in this country who doesn’t have a favorite Jewish Agency horror story. Still, it behooves us from time to time to reflect on the achievements of this extraordinary organization and to thank the many volunteers here and abroad who give unstintingly of their time, energy and wealth in pursuit of its aims. It is important to know as well that JAFI’s professional management has worked tirelessly over the past few years to streamline the organization, retiring hundreds of its employees and introducing creative measures to increase efficiency.

Now, deliberations begin on implementing a new strategic plan for JAFI, whose mission is “to inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people, heritage and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel.”

We should all only keep dreaming.

David Breaksrtone is a member of the Jewish Agency Executive and vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization.

courtesy Jewish Agency for Israel.