The Cost of Staying Tight-Lipped

We are thankful that last week’s bomb scares were only that — there were no  casualties, no damage and no bombs found at the 16 Jewish community centers in the East and South, including the Jewish Community Center in Park Heights, which received threatening calls on Jan. 9. We praise the institutions that followed security protocols and hustled adults and children out of the building, in some cases into the bitter cold, and to safety.

While investigations into what happened are ongoing, it seems that with the aid of robocalls, the perpetrators were able to transform what might have been a scattered scare into what appeared like  a mass threat. Just who the culprits are and what their motivations were is still  unknown. But there’s no reason something like this couldn’t happen again. Or something worse.

With the help of the Secure Community Network, the group affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America that coordinates security for most of the Jewish community, our local institutions have gained expanded access to federal funding to upgrade their security posture. Such disbursements under the Nonprofit Security Grants Program operated by the Department of Homeland Security now total millions of dollars a year and fund such things as the installation of security cameras, crisis training, perimeter hardening and other nondisclosed activities.

We believe that the Jewish community is safe. But we encourage those who are monitoring communal security, advising our institutions and implementing security protocols to communicate more fully with the public in order to help put people’s minds at ease when they should be at ease.

Thus, for example, we don’t think that David Posner, vice president for strategic performance at the JCC Association of North America, went far enough in his upbeat assessment of the bomb scare. In a 16-paragraph opinion piece, “Bomb threats won’t derail the vital activity of JCCs,” distributed by JTA, Posner devoted only two sentences to the immediate  responses to the phone calls. And even then, he was vague: “JCCs handled the situation professionally, taking the advice of security staff and local law enforcement and executing well-rehearsed safety plans. JCCs were able to do this seamlessly, working together with police and reopening by the end of the day.”

We are not suggesting that JCCs tweet their security plans or that day schools should detail on Facebook how to isolate an intruder. But we are saying that the mere invocation of “you’re safe” is not enough. Instead, there are many areas of safety preparation that could be shared without compromising safety protocols. For example, information regarding the frequency with which the staff of a Jewish organization receive security training; the broad situations they prepare for; the broad communication protocol that is  followed during safety exercises; and designation of a central spokesperson for the dissemination of timely information would all be helpful additional points to share.

We have no doubt that Jewish institutions are serious about protecting the people inside their doors. Better communication will help get that message out and will help us all feel a bit safer.

The Need for Unity

Joshua Runyan - Editorial Director

Joshua Runyan – Editorial Director

Jewish institutions up and down the Eastern Seaboard are being targeted, with vandalism reported in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania and our own Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore in Park Heights one of 16 JCCs nationwide to receive a bomb threat last week.

Investigators, according to the Jewish Federations of North America’s Secure Community Network, blamed the rash of threats on robocalls, but that only explains the how — not the why or the who — behind the scare. It could have been the work, like most bomb threats, of an attention-seeking sicko; but it also could have been the work of someone or something much more sinister.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t feel safe. The fact is millions of dollars are spent each year increasing the security posture of Jewish institutions. Vigilance, instead of fear, should be the principle by which we go about our lives.

But for all of the concern we shower on our community being the target of outside persons or groups, I humbly suggest that we should also be concerned about the way some in our community target each other.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the Jewish community, like the rest of America, is split. Much of the split concerns competing visions of what a future Israel will look like in the Middle East, and according to some observers, the fissure is getting wider. It wasn’t too long ago that Jews backing the Iran nuclear deal were denigrated as kapos. And in even more recent memory, some have taken to identifying those Jews who either supported incoming President Donald Trump or are assisting the new administration as traitors.

How can we claim to stand up against the hatred from without if we do not actively temper the hatred from within?

Each of the people quoted in our cover story this week voice principled positions, although few of them agree on much of anything. The Jewish body politic cleaves along religious lines, social justice lines and sometimes even socioeconomic lines. But in our pages at least, you will find civil debate — not mudslinging.

That bodes well for us as a community, because we bear the responsibility to return civility and acceptance to the public sphere. If we, as Jews, are really being targeted, the best thing we can do is to stand up against hatred as a unified people. That doesn’t mean that we need to purify our views; it means only that we need to purify our speech.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Election Never Far from Federation Assembly

 Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she looks forward to Donald Trump filling the court’s vacant seat. (Photo by Justin Katz

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she looks forward to Donald Trump filling the court’s vacant seat. (Photo by Justin Katz)

The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America got underway in Washington, D.C., Sunday with Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, telling the 3,000 community activists and staff how the world has changed since he last addressed the G.A. in 2014.

“Since we last met, the world has gone mad,” he said. “The world is moving into a new and dangerous phase that I call the politics of anger.”

The politics of anger comes from fear, he said. Those gathered in the Washington Hilton ballroom must counter that fear with hope, which Sacks called the greatest gift to humanity as a whole.”

Sacks mentioned the election of Donald Trump as president four days before, but in the gentlest way. He called the contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton “almost as acrimonious as a synagogue board meeting.”

The presidential election appeared to be the chief topic of the three-day G.A., the Jewish federation world’s annual convention where participants gather to re-energize their commitment to the Jewish community, network and hear from experts on Jewish issues. The election was the subject of numerous workshops and conversations throughout the convention hall.

To be sure, there were also the standard breakout sessions on Israel; on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement; and on fundraising. There were showcases for local innovations, called FEDovations. Disability inclusion and reaching out to millennials were also session topics.

But the election was never far away. At an election postmortem on Sunday, Kenneth Weinstein, president and CEO of the Hudson Institute, explained why Trump’s win came as a surprise to so many Jews.

“Frankly, given the demographic makeup of the Jewish community, which skews toward the highly educated white-collar worker at the upper end, we were completely out of touch with the base of voters out there in rural America,” he said.

On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was interviewed on stage by Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg. Feinberg asked what effect Trump’s election will have on the Supreme Court, which is operating with eight justices with one seat vacant.

“President Trump will fill it, then perhaps Congress will do some work,” she said.

Ginsburg added that the eight-justice court is doing just fine. “I think it’s to the court’s credit that last term there were only three decisions that came down 4 to 4,” she said.

“The world has gone mad,” Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, told G.A. participants.

“The world has gone mad,” Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, told G.A. participants. (Photo by Ron Sachs)

Monday began with news that Trump had appointed former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon to the position of chief strategist in his incoming administration. Bannon, with his connections to the white nationalist alt-right movement, has been dogged by accusations that he is an anti-Semite. Bannon’s appointment was criticized by some Jewish groups. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called Bannon “hostile to core American values.”

Later that morning, White House Jewish liaison Chanan Weissman talked about how Jews can respond to anti-Semitic tweets and other hate speech.

“One thing we need to do is speak out publicly whenever we can,” he told Times of Israel reporter Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil. “Whenever we see incidents like this, it’s important that we speak out against it on the record.”

Weissman, who will leave his position in January, said it is imperative for his successor to continue be a voice for the concerns of the Jewish community.

“We know what it means to be persecuted; therefore, we need to fight against persecution,” he said.

Between sessions, Sara Rabin Spira of Washington considered how the election affected her two small children.

“It’s been a difficult week,” she said. “I had to explain to my kids about Donald Trump. That was a heartbreaking conversation. I told them that what we can do is practice tikkun olam. If Trump tells us that we can litter, we’ll pick litter up.”

“I thought it was important that we have a little political debriefing, because a lot of people have concerns about how things went down,” said Beth Goldsmith, chair of community planning and allocations at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “It’s the perfect time to have this G.A. for all the people who need to be healed and have some positive inspiration.”

One debriefing, a discussion among Jewish Republican operatives, demonstrated that Republicans too are still sorting out the election results.

Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said he looks forward to sitting down with Bannon.

While having never met Bannon, Brooks brushed aside the accusations that have swirled around the Trump adviser. Everyone who Brooks knows who has worked for Bannon has said the man “does not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body,” Brooks said.

Panelist Noam Neusner, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said he is not optimistic about a Trump presidency.

“President-elect Trump has a lot to prove, and he knows it,” Neusner said. “I have severe doubts, but he could prove me wrong.”

But Neusner, like others on the panel, believes that Trump will work with the Jewish community on issues that are important to them.

When moderator Jacob Kornbluh, a political reporter with Jewish Insider, asked panel members whether they would be willing to serve in the incoming administration if asked, there was a noticeable pause.

“A lot of these questions I find impossible to answer because this is a candidate we know nothing about,” said Lisa Spies, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Tevi Troy, who served as White House Jewish liaison in the George W. Bush administration, said in an interview with Joshua Runyan, editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media, that Jews would be wise to take a “wait-and-see” approach in their response to Trump’s election.

“I would tell Jewish community to be wary of what they say in these early days,” he said.

Sarah Arenstein, senior philanthropic officer in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s United Jewish Endowment Fund, said that after the election, “it’s important more now than ever that the Jewish community comes together and stands united, because we have a lot of work to do as a country.”

galtshuler@midatlanticmedia.com
holzel@midatlanticmedia.com
jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com
dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Send in the Clowns

jill maxBy: Jill Max, Chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center

I hate the circus. The primary reason for these feelings stems from my childhood and my family’s requisite annual pilgrimage to Madison Square Garden to witness the “greatest show on Earth.” The smell of the menagerie was bad enough, but it was the clowns that really freaked me out. Fear of clowns: Coulrophobia (it’s a real thing, Google it).

When I discovered that we were going to hear from Tsour Shriqui, the Director of Medical Clowns, I immediately worried that he would bring one of their professionals with him. Fortunately, he was alone and thanks to him, I was able to see clowns through a different lens. Medical Clowns are actors who spend several months training before they are sent to work with patients in hospitals throughout Israel. There is extensive research about the positive effects on the patients they work with, particularly children, their parents and people with PTSD. The clowns are very busy these days, many have been sent to hospitals in the South like Barzilai and Saroka.

As we wound our way North through the hills to Nazareth, I was struck by the serenity and quiet in this largely Muslim Arab town. When we arrived at the Nazareth Industrial Park, perched on a mountaintop, we gravitated to the outdoor patio on the top floor and marveled at the breathtaking view.

The Nazareth Industrial Park was built 2 years ago to promote the development of industry in the Arab sector of Israel. It is the first Arab/Jewish industrial park. We learned about the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, a coalition of 100 Jewish Federations, foundations, religious and service organizations dedicated to learning and raising awareness about Arab society and Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.

We had the opportunity to hear from Julia A-Zahar, a leading Arab businesswoman whose company, Al Arz Tahina produces some of the best tahini and halva in the country. She is also a community activist, lay leader and the Chair of the the Masira Fund, a program for the advancement of people with disabilities in Arab society. It was an inspiring afternoon, particularly following our experiences on our way out of the Tel Aviv in the morning.

As the bus continued to wind through the mountains, I watched the sun beginning to retreat behind both clouds and hills. We arrived at Baba Yona Ranch and were greeted enthusiastically by representatives from Dalton Winery. The weather was glorious and the wines were lovely; however, we soon learned that we were not exactly going to relax and enjoy a leisurely outdoor dinner. Instead, we were divided into three teams and tasked with preparing the meal ourselves. Under normal circumstances, I would have loved this activity, but I was tired, and soon realized there were too many cooks in this makeshift kitchen. I headed back to the wine tasting and had a great conversation about what we’d learned in Nazareth with some new friends from the Lehigh Valley Region of Pennsylvania.

It was the first time since my arrival that I momentarily stopped thinking about sirens. I looked up at the clear, starry sky, breathed in the clean air and let out an audible sigh of relief.

Jill is currently in Israel on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaigner’s Mission.

Israel. Bring It.

Penina Romanek says volunteering in Beit Shemesh is teaching her the importance of the State of Israel. (Maayan Jaffe)

Penina Romanek says volunteering in Beit Shemesh is teaching her the importance of the State of Israel. (Maayan Jaffe)

There are upward of 300 young men and women from the Greater Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor who are spending between five and 12 months this year in the State of Israel — volunteering, learning and living.

These people — young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 — are part of an international program called Masa Israel. Spearheaded in 2004 to increase the number of young Jews who come on long-term programs to Israel, Masa gives travelers the opportunity to touch and feel what life is like in Israel.

Take, for example, Devin Sutton, a 28-year-old graduate of University of Maryland, College Park. Sutton said she discovered Masa and its English Teaching Fellowship by chance. She was working as a kindergarten teacher in a Carroll County public school when she became frustrated by the administrative work. She switched to a job in customer service, only to become disillusioned by her choice; Sutton still wanted to teach. She also wanted to revisit Israel. She had only been to Israel once, on a Birthright trip.

“I had gone on Birthright through Oranim. I went back to the website and stumbled upon this program,” Sutton said. “I thought it would be one of the best ways to get back to teaching.”

With help from Masa grants — “I would not have been able to do it without help” — Sutton made the move. She said the year (she is living in Ramle and teaching underprivileged children in Lod) has achieved its goal.

“In Baltimore, I am not that connected. I did not go to Hebrew school, my family does not belong to a synagogue. Here, I have been able to find my Jewish identity and to teach. That is why I did this, I wanted a change, an opportunity to do something new and different … and to have the most impact,” said Sutton.

According to Mary Haar, director of Israel and Overseas for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, 832 young adults have traveled from Baltimore on a Masa program since the city became involved in 2008. In 2013, approximately 160 people took part. The Associated, whose 2013 grant to Masa was $303,000, hopes to increase that number in 2014 by 60 people.

Explained Haar: “One component of the grant is to create and implement a strategic, multimedia marketing campaign to increase awareness of Masa.”

The campaign is scheduled to launch in January 2014.

In Washington, that awareness has already been building for the past several months. Bold ads for Masa can be seen on the Metro and in other key venues throughout the area. This campaign — and a full-time Masa Israel recruitment professional — is made possible by a generous, anonymous donor.

According to Avital Ingber, chief development officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, this donor “wanted to help more local community members learn about Masa Israel. The donor’s child had a difficult time finding information to research a potential Masa Israel experience, and [the donor] wanted to help make this process easier for others.”

Jenn Rheuban is part of the Federation’s Young Leadership team.

According to Ingber, approximately 150 young adults from the Greater Washington area participated in Masa programs in 2013. The community is expecting an increase with the launch of masaisrael.org/dc, a new portal that features local Masa alumni and statistics about the positive impact of Masa Israel. Since its recent launch, site traffic is nearly doubling monthly.

In addition to young people from the area who are traveling to Israel through Masa, many young adults from across the country are volunteering in the communities’ partner cities, Ashkelon (Baltimore) and Beit Shemesh (Washington).

Penina Romanek, from Chicago, landed in Israel in October 2013 and is volunteering in Beit Shemesh through the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). She helps mentor the youth and assists in a Beit Shemesh school. She said while she feels good about giving back to the community, she feels she is gaining from the experience, as well.

“I have learned so much from the kids,” said Romanek. “They are teaching me the importance of the State of Israel. I can’t wait to go home and tell people what I see here.”

Similarly, Abby Mandel, of South Carolina, is working with ENP in the afternoons; she studies Hebrew in the mornings. She said she had no idea about the Ethiopian community before coming to Israel. She finds her work “inspiring.”

Said Mandel: “This feels very real.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief
mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

Peres Calls For Peace, For Courage

President Shimon Peres addressed the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly on Monday with a message of courage and call for a celebration of human life.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told 3,500 GA listeners that Israel must have courage.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told 3,500 GA listeners that Israel must have courage.

Peres, speaking to the close to 3,500 attendees at the federation’s annual conference, coined “The Global Jewish Shuk,” told listeners that he remembers the days of Israel’s founding, when the people arrived to a small piece of land, which was unfriendly, with swamps in the north and desert in the south and with only the mosquitos as neighbors – the rest were enemies.

“There was no water. We had two lakes. One was dead and the other was dying. There was one river, the Jordan River, which is full of fame and short of water – not for irrigation. … We had no guns. We were outnumbered with no support,” said Peres. “But you know what we discovered? The greatest treasure in life is the human being. When you have nothing, you have people. Israel is a story of people.”

Peres said that he has heard of the debate about whether or not Israel should be – or is – more Jewish or more democratic and at the notion that there would even be such a discussion he scoffed. .

“The first democrat on earth was Moses. … Every person was born in image of the Lord, which was first declaration of democracy. When it says [in the Torah] we should not be like slaves and what fight oppressors, a second declaration. When it says love your fellow man like yourself, a third declaration,” Peres said. “Democracy is a love of people and a belief in them.”

Answering questions posed by David Horovitz, founder and editor of “Times of Israel,” Peres made clear that the strength of the Jewish people is its brains and he said it is in science and education that the Jewish state should invest. He also called on the people to stay focused on peace.

“Peace is our goal,” he said.

Though he did not indicate that there would be an easy path.

Is peace at hand? He said people have to understand, “We are negotiating not because we agree, but because we do not agree. Negotiating is to convert disagreements to agreements, to convert enemies to friends. … When we start out it is difficult, complicated, we have to change many prejudices.”

And he said sometimes the greatest prejudices lie within your own people and it is them you have to convince.

A final call to action was to the young generation.

“We are not owners of land, we are creators of ambition,” said Peres. “The ambition is to do and to make a better world and now is your time.”

He continued: “Logic has a limit, not courage.”

Find out what is happening with the Washington, D.C. delegation>> 

 

 

Emergency Response to Typhoon Haiyan: Ways To Give

The Jewish Federations of North America are mobilizing a communal response to the super Typhoon Haiyan, which has wrought widespread destruction in the Philippines. JFNA on Nov, 10 opened a mailbox for Federations to support relief efforts by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which is raising funds for relief efforts.

JDC is consulting with local officials, the Filipino Jewish community and global partners to assess the evolving situation on the ground in the Philippines, where one of the strongest storms on record has wrought widespread destruction. More than 10,000 people are feared dead, with reports of ocean surges as high as trees. The central city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte is among the worst hit on the Pacific nation.

The Federation-supported JDC has led relief efforts for previous storms in the Philippines, and helped support the local Jewish community in a nation that sheltered 1,000 European Jews fleeing the Nazis during World War II.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Filipino people suffering from this terrible storm’s unimaginable destruction,” said Cheryl Fishbein, chair of JFNA’s Emergency Committee.

The JFNA Emergency Committee is coordinating the Federation response with JDC and its global disaster relief partners. Donations can be made on our online relief page or given by mail at Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund, The Jewish Federations of North America, Wall Street Station, PO Box 148, New York, NY 10268.

Jewish Federations have a proud tradition of supporting the Jewish communal response to disasters around the world and at home, raising tens of millions of dollars for emergency assistance and longer-term aid. Most recently, Federations supported the national response to severe flooding in Colorado. In recent years, Federations responded to tsunamis in Japan and southeast Asia, the Haiti earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast.

Other ways to give:
>>The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore: associated.org/typhoonrelief or 101 W. Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore 21201 (Attn:Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund)

>>American Jewish World Service: https://secure.ajws.org/site/Donation2?df_id=6421&6421.donation=form1

>>B’nai Brith: 800-573-9057

>>Union of Reform Judaism: http://click.mail.rj.org/?qs=e3e3dccf3029c27b4295cd1d891f79d30e3a375361225b4a3e73ae6bbea4c64a


Follow JFNA at its
General Assembly in Jerusalem>>

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Netanyahu At The GA: ‘Security’

Security. This was the only message that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered to a crowd of more than 2,000 people on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the opening plenary of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year's JFNA GA. The keyword: security.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year’s JFNA GA. The keyword: security.

“The most important thing is to assure the security and the future of the Jewish state, the one and only Jewish state of Israel,” said Netanyahu as he launched into a more than 30-minute speech.

The PM started with Iran. He told the audience of Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders that an Iran without nuclear weapons is essential not only for Israel, but for the entire world – the U.S., Europe, the Arabs, the Chinese and the Russians.

“But for us,” said Netanyahu, “it is a matter of our existence.”

Netanyahu lashed out at the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany) for agreeing to lighten sanctions on Iran when it came to the table pleading, ready to negotiate because the sanctions are having impact. He said the P5+1 placed demands on Iran to cease and desist the building of capabilities to produce atomic bombs that have brought Iran to its knees, why now would we want to come to a deal without Iran dismantling anything.

“Why Iran has come for a deal is obvious. It is because the sanctions are biting, are crippling that regime. They came to the table because they have to,” he said, expressing exasperation that the group would agree to lghten sanctions when “not one centrifuge is dismantled – not one.”

He said Iran can in a matter of a few weeks take the capabilities it has and produce a nuclear weapon.

“Iran does not roll back its nuclear making capacity at all, but P5+1 are rolling back sanctions? That is a bad deal, it is a dangerous deal. … That affects our survival,” said Netanyahu. “I will not be silenced – never. … When the Jewish people were silenced on matters relating to our survival you know what happened.”

Then he told the audience that Iran was not only targeting his country, but most certainly the U.S., too.

“Who is Iran targeting when it builds the ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles)? They already have rockets and missiles to reach us. They need those [ICBMs] to reach North America. And they can be nuclear tipped. That is the plan –  coming to a theater near you. Do you want that? Well, do something about it,” he charged.

He said Israel is in charge of defending itself and that is what it will do.

And not only when it comes to Iran.

The PM next turned to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and said, again, that first and foremost was the safety, security and longevity of the Jewish state.

“We need to end this conflict once and for all and to end it there is a simple principle. That principle is two nation states, two states for two peoples. Not one state for one people, for the Palestinians. And then another state for two peoples. No, two states for two peoples,” said the PM.

He told the crowd that if the Palestinians expect Israel to recognize a Palestinian state, they must recognize a Jewish state for the Jewish people. He said, “That is what peace is about.”

Netanyahu walked attendees through Israel’s painful and bloody past, through the 1921 attack on the Jewish immigration office in Jaffa, through the horrible beheading of babies in 1929 with the Hebron massacre and on through the systematic attacks by the Arabs on the Jewish community between 1936 and 1939. During World War II, he reminded, it was Haj Amin al-Husseini who partnered with Adolf Hitler and called for a final solution. He then said that in 1947 the Jews accepted a two-state solution while the Arabs refused and when the Jews established their state, they were attacked on all fronts, attacks which lasted until the 1967 war.

“For 46 years there were systemic attacks on the very nature of the Jewish state. Not on settlements,” he said. “There were not any settlement. …. Not about a Palestinian state, they rejected it. … It was about the Jewish state. They have to recognize the Jewish state. … What is their struggle for? Palestine. What is Palestine? It is Kiryat Shemona to Eilat, it is from the river to the sea.”

And so, bringing the talk back to the issue of security, Netanyahu then said that even if the Palestinians agreed to recognize Israel, “there is no durable peace that is not based on security. … A peace agreement that is not based on absolutely robust security for Israel by Israel will not stand test of time. We need a peace based on security. That is the other fundamental piece. We need security to defend the peace — and security to defend Israel in case peace unravels. And in our region, peace has a tendency to unravel.”

Next, and also connected to Israel’s peace and security, Netanyahu spoke about shalom bayit between Israel and Diaspora Jews. He claimed it his responsibility as PM of Israel to keep the peace of the Jewish people. And he said it was he who asked Natan Sharansky to head a Kotel task force and that he is confident we are on the cusp of making a final solution come to fruition.

He cited an announcement made earlier this week at the Jewish Agency for Israel conference about new plans (see “Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection>>“) to further connect young Diaspora Jews with Israel and noted that he has agreed to invest Israeli money in the endeavor.

“We are committed to it,” said Netanyahu. “We know the challenge of Jewish unity. There are the forces of assimilation and intermarriage [in the States]. … We have sponsored this initiative to work together, to think through [these things] together, and to put forward programs to solidify … a Jewish identity that is so central to our future.”

Netanyahu continued: “When I think of challenges we have overcome over the last 4,000 years – challenges to our physical survival, challenges to our spiritual survival and cohesion — I know we have that inner strength to guarantee the Jewish future. … To defend and secure the Jewish people and the one and only Jewish state.”

 View Earlier Posts:
Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection>>
GA 2013: Opening Plenary at 7:15 P.M.>>

Read what’s happening with the group traveling from Washington, D.C.>>

Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection

With change there is always opportunity, said Debs Weinberg of Baltimore at a morning session run by the Jewish Agency for Israel. And Weinberg’s message was one that will become increasingly more relevant as JAFI, working with the government of Israel and nonprofits from across the world, works to better engage young (between the ages of 13 and 35) Jews with Israel and to enhance their Jewish identities.

Misha Galperin discussed a new project that will focus on Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Misha Galperin discussed a new project that will focus on Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Dr. Misha Galperin, president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development, told a group of about 15 people in an exclusive briefing on Sunday morning that over the course of the JAFI conference, which is currently taking place in Israel, a group of more than 100 thought leaders met to more formalize plans for a collaborative initiative that will bring Diaspora Jews to Israel and invest in Israel education on campuses outside of the Jewish state.

Galperin explained that this program was nearly a decade in the making, as it was current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who signed the legislation in the ‘90s that launched invested by the government of Israel in Birthright.

“This was the first time in history that Israeli tax payers’ money was put into a pot that funded free trips for American kids, which many thought here [in Israel] was a criminal thing to do; it was supposed to the other way around,” said Galperin.

Since then, a number of other development occurred, like the formation of MASA Israel, which was co-founded and is jointly managed by the government and the Jewish Agency.

“At this point, about $120 million a year are allocated by the government of Israel for various prorams that have to with the Jewish Diaspora and Jewish communities [outside of Israel,” said Galperin.

When Natan Sharansky left his seat in the Knesset to become head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, he started exploring what might be next – after or in conjunction with Birthright and MASA.

About one year ago, the PM empowered a team to explore that question in conjunction with leaders in the Diaspora. A late April 2013 meeting help by the PM with Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett solidified that there would need to be something done.

“The prime minister said this is important for the Jewish people – that it is in the strategic interest of the Jewish people,” noted Galperin.

Several meetings, focus groups and a white paper later, led to the Nov. 6 to 7 meetings of world thought leaders in Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’Uma and the revelation that the government will invest likely double what it is investing now to ramp up programming for young Diaspora Jews. That money – though an exact amount could not be named – would be expected to be matched by overseas nonprofit organizations/philanthropists and by participants’ fees.

“I was personally very anxious about what would happen and how this would work,” said Galperin. “This is a very different planning model. For the government of Israel, it is revolutionary. The government has never done this before – engaged in a collaborative planning process with Diaspora and on-governmental organizations.”

What can Galperin say on the record now?

“This effort is moving ahead,” he said, noting that between now and April when the government would have to present a resolution and ensure funding for the initiative is allocated in the fiscal budget, “exactly what we are doing, in what sequence, how it is going to be evaluated and all that, has to be worked out.”

The outcome could have a fundamental impact on the destiny of the Jewish people – not so much in terms of the types of programming but in terms of how the programming is being worked out — this new method of Jewish collaboration.

Galperin said there will likely be a series of pilot projects in the first year, but details could not be available at this time. What he could say was that while initial talks were focused on growing Diaspora Jews’ connection with Israel, and while that is still a part of it, “now we are talking about Jewish identity.”

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