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Recently, the Jewish Agency has sparked controversy by undergoing a major restructuring, closing its three distinct units and combining them into one. This represents a fundamental shift in the organization’s goals, as it finds its former role as the agency in charge of immigration and absorption of Jews from the Diaspora becoming redundant. As these jobs start to be performed by private organizations to greater success, The Jewish Agency is shifting its focus.
Now, according to Natan Sharansky, the goal is to reach out to members of the Diaspora and try to strengthen their sense of Jewish identity.
Birthright, of course, is a successful model. As JA spokesman Haviv Gur says:
“We’ve seen studies that show a clear connection between participation in Birthright and increased participation in Jewish community activities,” Gur says. “It’s clear that the first step to get them to make aliyah is to interface with Israel, and in order to get them to do that, you have to connect them to the Jewish community. Those who join Birthright enter a spiral that gets them into a relationship with Israel, one that will hopefully get them to make aliyah – or at least take the first step, by becoming more involved in their local Jewish communities.”
There is something else going on here, however. Natan Sharansky’s refocusing of the Jewish Agency is indicative of growing recognition that Israel cannot take its relationships with Jews in the Diaspora for granted. He should be applauded for leading in this direction. Israel needs to make an extra effort to understand the shifting attitudes among young Jews in the Diaspora, and work to build closer ties with them. The Jewish Agency’s efforts can only help in this cause.
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