'Lost Jew' Video Stokes Ire Even Among Those Who Funded It

Agency-funded MASA had published anti-assimilation video deemed by some officials as 'patronizing and insulting.'

An ad campaign funded by the Jewish Agency meant to strengthen the Jewish identity of young Diaspora Jews has stoked a storm of controversy, garnering condemnation both from the Reform movement and from within the agency itself.

The 10-day Hebrew-language campaign, to be shown on television and online, was prepared by a leading advertising firm at the behest of MASA, a partnership between the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government that helps finance and market semester- and year-length Israel programs for Diaspora Jews.

The 33-second clip features images of missing-person posters hanging in locales in Europe and North America. The posters, in English, French and Russian, show young people with Jewish-sounding names. One "lost" person can be seen wearing a T-shirt that reads "I love Israel."

In a letter written by Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel and Paula Edelstein, head of the Jewish Agency's aliyah department, call on Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky to immediately have MASA remove the ad, saying that it is harmful and offensive to many.

"This ad campaign portrays MASA as a means of self-defense against the existential threat facing Jews - assimilation in the Diaspora ? through the broad use of sharp visual and difficult associations", the letter reads.

The letter continues "this method creates a fierce contrast between the Israeli reality and in that of the Diaspora through the portrayal of the latter as an existential threat that leads Jews to the loss of their identity."

Within 24 hours of the campaign's launch, MASA received over a hundred phone calls from France, New Zealand, and the United States in which people reported on Jews living abroad who they felt could benefit from the outreach program.

The letter states that "a program [MASA] meant to encourage dialogue and understanding chose to portray their actions in a patronizing and insulting manner."

Kariv and Edelstein add that that they do not want to detract from the positive work MASA performs, but that they reject the advertisement's implication that MASA "is meant to stop assimilation through the negation of the Jewish life of Diaspora Jews."

The Jewish Agency has not released a response to the letter.