Global Jewish Initiatives

This past week, Michael Weiner, Federation’s Chairman of the Board, and I attended the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Western Regional Conference and Board of Trustees meetings. The conference was an opportunity for 14 Jewish Federations from west of the Rocky Mountains to meet and share common challenges and opportunities – and there are many.

Following the conference, we attended the JFNA Board of Trustees meeting. The focus of this meeting was to have initial discussions about potential mega-projects that could be funded collectively by the 156 Jewish Federations. Three exciting potential major initiatives were discussed:

Jewish Diaspora Initiative – The Government of Israel (GOI) and Federation’s partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), plan to launch a major initiative aimed at strengthening the global commitment to Jewish peoplehood, and addressing challenges aimed at strengthening Jewish identity and engagement. The Jewish Federation system is being asked to participate in this initiative. At a time when political, social, religious, and economic forces are radically reshaping our world and community, the Jewish Federations will help to think and plan to secure our collective Jewish future.

The GOI traditionally engaged with Jewish communities outside of Israel in order that those communities provide financial and political support, as well as to build the Israeli population through aliyah (immigration to Israel). In 1978 an important variation emerged when, at the request of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Jewish communities moved beyond the traditional aliyah and klitah (absorption) agenda into a model of direct engagement through Project Renewal, followed by Partnership 2000.

Although we have tried to maintain our “people to people and community to community connections,” over time, there has been a major change to increase joint funding with the GOI for various programs, including Taglit-Birthright Israel and MASA (offers over 200 study, internship, and volunteer opportunities all over Israel lasting between five months and twelve months). This increased support for education demonstrates World Jewry’s focus on strengthening identity and connection with Jews outside of Israel.

The GOI is envisioning doubling its current level of investment in Jewish identity programs worldwide growing incrementally over the next five years and reaching an additional investment of $100 million by 2020. The GOI’s expectation is that this new investment will be matched 1:1 basis by philanthropic dollars, with additional funding generated by participant fees. The ultimate goal is that the Jewish world will raise $250-$350 million cumulative over five years, with the Federation system playing a catalytic role. The GOI is looking at a 20-year timeline, which could mean a long-term investment of over $1.5 billion from Israel for this effort.

Israel is basically saying that “we are all in this together and we need each other to succeed.” Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said, “In Israel, we typically viewed the world as a source of aliyah and a big fat wallet and that has to change.” The people of Israel are now prepared to invest in the needs of Jewish communities around the world and understand its moral responsibility for the continuation of Judaism and continuation of Jewish communities.

Israel Children’s Zone (ICZ) – Currently 861,000 Jewish children, more than 25% of Israel’s Jewish children, live below the poverty line. Educational outcomes in low-income communities and among low-income households fall considerably below average, setting up the next generation for a life of poverty. Low-income families face higher levels of unemployment, food insecurity, physical and mental health issues and many other problems. These problems impact upon the ability of parents to support the success of their children in school and beyond. These problems are not dissimilar to those faced in the inner cities of America where there are intractable, intergenerational cycles of poverty that have existed for a very long time.

Currently, no program exists in Israel that is as comprehensive in its service offering as the approach envisioned by this new initiative. This initiative will provide an extended school day and will work with parents to help support their children through the entire schooling cycle. The ICZ will also offer “wrap-around services” to ensure that children live in a stable family environment that provides them with appropriate nutrition, housing, clothing, medical care, and psychological support. These basics are prerequisites for success in school. Employment services will be critical to providing self-sufficiency and stability to these at-risk families.

If this model is successful, it would mean the lives of tens of thousands of young Israelis would be radically improved and these improvements would be passed on to their children and future generations.

JQuest is the creation of a “rite of passage” for young people to launch a life-long journey of engagement with the global Jewish people, Israel, and their local communities through the increased participation in powerful participant-centered Jewish immersive experiences. JQuest seeks to dramatically increase the number of Jewish young adults, ages 18-35, to take part in meaningful Jewish service and professional internship experiences in Israel and around the world. The goal is that within five years, more than 75,000 young adults will have participated in short, medium, and year-long services and internship opportunities.

Three potential game-changing new initiatives – and our Federation may play a role. But none of these can be achieved without the “power of the collective” – the role the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has played for over 93 years. What we can do together is much greater than any single organization can do alone. These are exciting times and incredible opportunities for Jewish communities around the world to truly make an impact and difference for a strong global Jewish future. I will keep you posted.

Shabbat shalom.



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