Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Friday,
Oct 24th

From Birthright to the world

E-mail Print PDF

JERUSALEM — Its leaders call it a “historic development,” a “paradigm shift” and a “change in the relationship” between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

But when it comes to the details of the Joint Initiative of the Government of Israel and World Jewry, key questions have yet to be answered — including what it will do and who will fund it.

Conceived last year as a partnership between the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and major Diaspora Jewish bodies, the initiative aims to strengthen Diaspora Jewish identity and connections between Israel and Jews worldwide.

On June 1, Israel’s Cabinet voted to invest upward of $50 million on the initiative through 2017. The government intends to increase the sum to $100 million annually by 2022.

The government wants Diaspora sources — federations, philanthropic foundations and individual donors — to contribute double those sums for two-thirds of the initiative’s total budget.

The funding will go both toward expanding existing programs for young adults and creating new ones.

“It’s a historic development that the Israeli government has decided to take more responsibility for strengthening the identity of Jewish communities,” the Jewish Agency’s chairman, Natan Sharansky, told JTA.

“We’re talking about Jewish identity built on a connection to Israel.”

Given the success of Birthright Israel, a free, 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish young adults, the initiative will focus on immersive experiences in Israel, college campus programs, Jewish summer camps and experiential learning, Sharansky said.

BUT though the Israeli government has set aside money for the initiative, it has neither lined up the matching grants from Diaspora foundations nor has it outlined the specific programs that would receive the funding.

A planning meeting for the initiative in November, 2013 drew a virtual who’s who of major Jewish organizations and foundations.

But Sharansky mentioned only Jewish Federations of North America as a potential initial source of funding from the US, saying he didn’t want to single others out before a plan had been set.

“There are many unanswered questions at this point,” the Jewish Federations’ CEO, Jerry Silverman, told JTA.

“Six months from now many of those questions will be answered. We’re not at the finish line. We’re at the 30-yard line. We feel confident we’ll get to the finish line together on this.”

Silverman said that the Jewish Federations had yet to decide on an initial sum to contribute to the initiative and that his network was not involved in setting the budget passed by the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday.

Sharansky set a timetable of one to two months for program proposals to be drawn up. Following the initiative’s lengthy planning process thus far, which has included conferences and an online forum for young Jews worldwide to suggest programs, Sharansky said that “coming to practical decisions comes very quickly.”

Dvir Kahana, the director-general of Israel’s Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, said the initiative still requires strategic planning in addition to practical steps.

The Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, as well as the Finance Ministry, will provide Israeli government funding for the initiative.

It will be run by a body including representatives from the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and Diaspora funders.

“We’re going to have a strategic plan for the next 25 years,” he said. “Not what we know to do now but what we should and should not do. From that strategic perspective, with key people, we’ll make decisions both regarding existing programs and programs we need to create. We’re not set on any specific program.”

According to the text of the resolution passed by Israel’s Cabinet, a key portion of the initiative is strengthening the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

The first stage of the initiative will focus both on bringing young Diaspora Jews to Israel and on Israel education in Diaspora communities.

There has not been a decision whether the project’s initial stage will also educate Israeli Jews about world Jewry, Sharansky said.

THE Jewish Agency, historically focused on promoting immigration to Israel, has in recent years taken up a new mission of strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora and peoplehood.

It now offers Diaspora Jews long-term experiences in Israel without a commitment to immigrate.

Sharansky said that while Orthodox Jews can count on ritual observance to keep them engaged in the Jewish community, Israel is the only proven anchor to ensure Jewish identity for non-Orthodox Jews.

“In the non-Orthodox world nothing stops assimilation except connection to Israel,” he said.

“In Orthodox communities, awareness of Jewish identity is very high. They live through their faith and Jewish tradition. When you move to others you find out that this deep feeling of your belonging to this Jewish story and your desire to stay inside of it is becoming thinner and thinner.”

 

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Nominations open for NBN Bonei Zion Prize for outstanding immigrants

Marcy Oster Nominations have opened for the Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize recognizing outstanding English-speaking immigrants to Israel. ... [Link]

Lawyers for Palestinian-American woman want to bar terrorism from trial

Marcy Oster Lawyers for an American of Palestinian descent accused of concealing her conviction on terrorist bombings in Israel are seeking to bar references to terrorism at her trial. ... [Link]

Israeli envoy: Jordan king blasting Israel to appease his Arab allies

Cnaan Liphshiz Israel’s ambassador to Jordan suggested that King Abdullah’s recent claim that Israel kills Arab children en masse stems from pressure by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. ... [Link]

Danish health director: No reason to ban circumcision

Cnaan Liphshiz Denmark’s national health authority does not think non-medical circumcision is risky enough to justify a ban on it, the body’s director said. ... [Link]

European rabbis seek laws singling out anti-Semitic hate speech

Cnaan Liphshiz European rabbis called on governments throughout the continent to pass laws targeting hate speech against Jews. ... [Link]

Ireland’s Upper House calls on government to recognize Palestine

Marcy Oster Without voting, Ireland’s Upper House accepted the nonbinding motion for formal recognition of Palestine statehood. ... [Link]

Women of the Wall smuggle Torah scroll into Kotel plaza

Cnaan Liphshiz Women who brought in a small Torah scroll into the Western Wall Plaza in defiance of the site’s rules were allowed to finish praying. ... [Link]

Dutch mayor likens jihadis to Jews who left for pre-state Israel

Cnaan Liphshiz A Dutch mayor said Holland should not prevent Islamists from leaving for Syria just as it let Jews immigrate to prestate Israel. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com