The Jewish Agency has been involved in talks with the Prime Minister’s Office about upgrading cooperation with Diaspora communities, chairman Natan Sharansky announced on Sunday at the triannual meeting of the organization’s Board of Governors.
As part of the agency’s new focus on promoting Jewish identification among Diaspora Jews, Sharansky said that his discussions with the Prime Minister’s Office centered on “areas of special importance to both sides.”
The quasi-governmental organization would like to coordinate its efforts with Netanyahu on issues relating to youth aliya, providing Diaspora Jews with “Israeli experiences,” promoting “Israeli and Jewish education in communities abroad” and outreach work on university campuses.
Sharansky stated that he wished to see “hundreds of campuses around the world engaged with Israel.”
In furtherance of this cause, Sharansky said, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has met with “potential donors” who could fund the proposed initiatives, which the agency is developing with its “partners.”
According to Sharansky, Israel’s government will be “broadening” its involvement in these matters, including “bringing more Jews to Israel” on various long and shortterm programs. Such activities could serve as the basis of programs encouraging the aliya of “young professionals,” which will be the “center of activity in months to come,” he said.
However, the new focus on stemming assimilation and promoting Jewish and Zionist identity does not negate the agency’s core mission of promoting immigration, said Danny Lamm, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
Lamm, deputy chair of the board’s Aliya and Rescue Committee, addressed board members, saying that contrary to what has been reported by some in the press, “aliya is not dead” and it continues to be a “critical focus.” However, he continued, the “game has changed.”
While the Jewish Agency stands ready to facilitate mass aliya, that is the not the biggest issue on the organization’s plate right now, he asserted, having previously noted that “Ethiopian aliya is coming to a conclusion.”
“If there is a crisis and people have to be brought [to Israel] we’ll do what has to be done but in the meantime we are trying to attract the best of the youth around the world to strengthen ties between the Diaspora and Israel,” he said.
Along those lines, Roman Polonsky, the director of the agency’s unit for Russianspeaking Jews, told a committee meeting that it is “only natural that we decided in our unit and in this region to unite the department of aliya with the department of Israel experience.”
Immigration from the former Soviet Union, he noted, still accounts for “half of worldwide aliya.”
Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, speaking after Sharansky at the opening session of the three-day meeting, also stated that the administration is “strengthening the connection between the Jewish Agency and the government.”
Her remarks come only months after her recently resigned director-general Dmitry Aparzev made a public call for the agency to “return the keys” of aliya to his ministry.
“I give the [Jewish Agency] the mandate to take care of a national issue – aliya – and instead it decides to invest in a different area,” Aparzev said in April, referring to the agency’s shift away from its traditional focus on facilitating large-scale immigration in favor of programs to maintain Jewish identity among Jews living outside of Israel.
Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Bleich also sounded off on the agency’s focus. He told delegates from around the world that despite promotion of aliya being a matter of priority, he is “not looking to grow [the numbers] back” to what they were before the end of the first mass waves of aliya after the fall of Communism, but rather is looking to promote “strong Jewish identity.”
Bleich expressed appreciation for world Jewry’s support for the Jews of the FSU, telling delegates that he thanked them “from the bottom of my heart, for coming to visit Ukraine.”
“That the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors – people who are active in helping our community – has come to visit our local Jewish community is of the utmost importance for us. We hope it will be as important for you to be here as it is for us to have you here.”