Jewish Agency to Focus on Diaspora, Not Local Projects, to Combat Assimilation

Sharansky: Decision due to danger of reduction in number of Jews in the world because of assimilation, along with young Jews' estrangement from Israel.

The Jewish Agency will give preference to bolstering Jewish identity overseas and strengthening Diaspora Jews' ties with Israel, at the expense of social and educational projects within the country, the agency's board of directors decided yesterday.

North American Jews making aliyah
Nir Keidar

"The immediate danger of a reduction in the number of Jews in the world because of assimilation, along with young Jews' estrangement from the State of Israel and from their affinity with the Jewish people, forced the organization to provide an urgent response," said Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who put forth the proposal earlier this year. "That's what the new plan is for."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the plan.

"The Jewish world must set itself the goal of making it possible for every Jewish young person who wants to visit Israel to do so within five years," he said at the board meeting. "Moreover, we must bring not only the young people to visit Israel, but their educators as well, to strengthen their Jewish identity."

The plan calls for diverting funds from youth villages and education and social programs in Israel to programs like Taglit-Birthright, Masa and Lapid, which bring Diaspora Jewish youth to Israel.

The Jewish Agency also intends to increase the number of Israeli youth working at Jewish summer camps abroad and of representatives who would work on improving Israel's image on college campuses abroad. The newly approved plan also calls for an expansion of the Partnership 2000 program, which links Jewish communities with Israeli cities and towns.

Jewish Agency officials believe some Jewish communities are in danger of being wiped out within one generation due to assimilation.