Jewish Agency for Israel
The Jewish Agency for Israel (Hebrew: הסוכנות היהודית לארץ ישראל, HaSochnut HaYehudit L'Eretz Yisra'el) is the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world. Previously called the Palestine Zionist Executive, it was designated in 1929 as the "Jewish agency" provided for in the League of Nations' Palestine Mandate.
It is best known as the primary organization responsible for the immigration ("Aliyah") and absorption of Jews and their families from the Diaspora into Israel. Since 1948, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been responsible for bringing 3 million immigrants to Israel, and offers them transitional housing in "absorption centers" throughout the country. The Jewish Agency played a central role in the founding and the building of the State of Israel, including the establishment of about 1,000 towns and villages, and continues to serve as the main link between Israel and Jewish communities around the world. Its mission is to "inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people, heritage, and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel."
The Jewish Agency is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and does not receive core funding from the Israeli government.The Jewish Agency is funded by The Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, major Jewish communities and federations, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, foundations and donors from Israel and around the world. The dozens of programs it supports or operates benefit well over a million Israelis and Jews worldwide every year.
- 1 History
- 1.1 1908–1928: Beginnings as Arm of the World Zionist Organization
- 1.2 Jewish Agency for Palestine 1929-1948
- 1.3 The Jewish Agency for Israel
- 2 New strategic plan (since 2009)
- 3 Governance
- 4 Funding and budget
- 5 Current programs
- 6 Emergency projects
- 7 Awards and recognition
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
1908–1928: Beginnings as Arm of the World Zionist Organization
The Jewish Agency began as the Palestine Office (Hebrew: המשרד הארץ-ישראלי, HaMisrad HaEretz Yisraeli), founded in Jaffa in 1908, as the operational branch of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in Ottoman-controlled Palestine under the leadership of Arthur Ruppin. The main tasks of the Palestine Office were to represent the Jews of Palestine in dealings with the Turkish sultan and other foreign dignitaries, to aid Jewish immigration, and to buy land for Jews to settle.
The Palestine Office was established under the inspiration of Theodore Herzl's vision for a solution to "the Jewish question": the issue of anti-Semitism and the place of Jews in the world. In his pamphlet "The Jewish State," Herzl envisioned the Jewish people settled as an independent nation on its own land, taking its place among the other nation-states of the world. The Palestine Office, which eventually became The Jewish Agency, was based upon Herzl's organizational ideas for how to bring a Jewish state into being.
The influx of Jews to Palestine on the Second Aliyah (1904-1914) made the purchase of land particularly urgent. With the aid of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the Palestine Office bought land for newcomers in two locations: Chavat Kinneret (near the Sea of Galilee), and Kibbutz Ruhama (near Sderot of today). Kibbutz Ruhama was specifically designated for Russian Jews from the Second Aliyah. Over the following decades, the Palestine Office established hundreds more moshavim and kibbutzim throughout Palestine. The Palestine Office continued to purchase land together with JNF (In Hebrew: Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael, KKL).
With the outbreak of World War I, the anticipated disintegration of the Ottoman Empire raised hopes among Zionists for increased Jewish immigration and eventual sovereignty in Palestine. In 1918, Great Britain conquered the region and it fell under British military rule.
Following the promulgation of the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration of 1917, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the British Zionist Federation formed the Zionist Commission in March 1918 to go to Palestine and make recommendations to the British government. The Commission reached Palestine on 14 April 1918 and proceeded to study conditions and to report to the British government, and was active in promoting Zionist objectives in Palestine. Weizmann was instrumental in restructuring the WZO's Palestine office into departments for agriculture, settlement, education, land, finance, immigration, and statistics.
On 25 April 1920, the Principal Allied Powers agreed at the San Remo conference to allocate the Ottoman territories to the victorious powers and assigned Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq as Mandates to Britain, with the Balfour Declaration being incorporated into the Palestine Mandate. The League of Nations formally approved these mandates in 1922. Article 4 of the Mandate provided for "the recognition of an appropriate Jewish Agency as a public body for the purpose of advising and co-operating with the Administration of Palestine in such economic, social and other matters as may affect the establishment of the Jewish National Home and the interests of the Jewish population of Palestine." The WZO leaders had contributed to the drafting of the Mandate. In 1921, the Zionist Commission became the Palestine Zionist Executive and was designated as the Jewish Agency for Palestine for the purpose of Article 4 of the Palestine Mandate.
In 1921 Ze'ev Jabotinsky was elected to the Executive but he resigned in 1923, accusing Weizmann of not being vigorous enough with the Mandatory Government. Other issues between the Revisionists and the Agency were the distribution of entry permits, Weizmann's support for the Zionist Labour Movement, and the proposal to expand the Agency. The Revisionists broke completely with Agency in 1935, but rejoined WZO in 1947. In 1951 the WZO/JA included all Zionist organizations except Herut.
The Palestine Zionist Executive was charged with facilitating Jewish immigration to Palestine, land purchase, and planning the general policies of the Zionist leadership. It ran schools and hospitals, and formed a defence force, the Haganah. Chaim Weizmann was the leader of both the World Zionist Organization and the Palestine Zionist Executive until 1929. The arrangement enabled the WZO to issue entry permits to new immigrants.
Jewish Agency for Palestine 1929-1948
Inclusion and Exclusion of Non-Zionists
In 1929, the Palestine Zionist Executive was renamed, restructured and officially inaugurated as The Jewish Agency for Palestine by the 16th Zionist Congress, held in Zurich, Switzerland. The new body was larger and included a number of Jewish non-Zionist individuals and organizations, who were interested in Jewish settlement in Palestine. They were philanthropic rather than political, and many opposed talk of a Jewish State.
There was strong opposition within WZO when the idea of enlargement of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency was first raised in 1924 to include non-Zionists, and the idea was accepted by the Zionist Congress only in 1927. Even though non-Zionists took part in The Agency, it was still closely tied to the World Zionist Organization. The President of the WZO served as the chair of the Executive Council and the Assembly of The Jewish Agency, and half of the members of The Agency's governing bodies were chosen by the WZO, ensuring a unified policy and close cooperation between the two organizations. The change was Chaim Weizmann's initiative and was established on the principle of parity between Zionists and non-Zionists working together in the building of a Jewish national home.
Those participating in the Board included Zionists such as writers Sholem Asch and H. N. Bialik; and Albert Einstein. It also included non-Zionists such as PM of France Léon Blum; Immanuel Löw; Lord Alfred (Mond) Melchett; and Herbert Samuel (the first governor of Palestine instated by the British under the mandate). American non-Zionists received 44 of the 112 seats allotted to non-Zionists. The British Board of Deputies joined as a constituent body.
Weizmann was criticized for being too pro-British. When the 1930 White Paper was published recommending restricting Jewish immigration, his position became untenable and he resigned from the WZO and The Jewish Agency. He protested that the British had betrayed their commitment expressed in the Balfour Declaration and that he could no longer work with them. Nahum Sokolow, who had been elected to succeed Weizmann, remained in his position. Arthur Ruppin succeeded Sokolow as Chairman of the Jewish Agency in 1933 and David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok joined the executive. In 1935, Ben-Gurion was elected Chairman of the Agency to succeed Ruppin.
In 1937 The Peel Commission published its report into the disturbances of the year before. For the first time, partition and the setting up of a Jewish State was recommended. The 1937 Zionist Congress declined to endorse the Commission's conclusions, a majority insisting that the Balfour Declaration referred to all of Palestine and Transjordan, but the executive was authorized to continue exploring what the "precise terms" were. This decision revealed differences within the Jewish Agency, with the non-Zionists disagreeing with the decision and some calling for a conference of Jews and Arabs. In 1947 the last non-Zionist member of the Jewish Agency, Wemer Senator, resigned and the Agency and the WZO once again became unified. The Jewish Agency Executive included David Ben-Gurion as chairman, and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon and Yitzhak Gruenbaum, among others.
From 1929 to 1948, the Jewish Agency was organized into four departments: the Government Department (performing foreign relations on behalf of the Jewish community of Palestine); the Security Department; the Aliyah Department, and the Education Department.
The Jewish Agency was (and is still) housed in a fortress-like building in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. The land for the Rehavia neighborhood had been purchased in 1922 by the Palestine Land Development Corporation, and construction of The Jewish Agency headquarters was paid for by the WZO. The three-winged structure with a large open courtyard was designed by Yochanan Rattner. Along with The Jewish Agency it also houses the headquarters of the JNF and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal. On March 11, 1948, a bomb planted in the courtyard of the building by Arab militants killed 13 and wounded many others. The Keren Hayesod wing was completely destroyed. Leib Yaffe, director-general of Keren Hayesod, was among those killed in the bombing.
The building continues to serve as the headquarters of The Jewish Agency as of 2013. The organization also has satellite sites worldwide.
Pre-State Immigration and Settlement 1934-1948
Throughout the years 1934-1948, in a phenomenon known as the Ha’apala (ascension), The Jewish Agency facilitated clandestine immigration beyond the British quotas. In 1938 it established HaMosad LeAliyah Bet ('המוסד לעלייה ב, lit. Institution for Immigration B), which took charge of the effort. Overall, in these years, The Agency, in partnership with other organizations, helped over 150,000 people in their attempt to enter Palestine, organizing a total of 141 voyages on 116 ships.The potential immigrants were Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities in Europe and, after the war, refugees from DP camps who sought a home in Palestine. Most of the Ma’apilim ships (of the Ha'apala movement) were intercepted by the British, but a few thousand Jews did manage to slip past the authorities. The operation as a whole also helped to unify the long-standing Jewish community in Palestine as well as the newcomer Jewish refugees from Europe.
In these years The Agency made use of the “tower and stockade” (Hebrew: חומה ומגדל) method to establish dozens of new Jewish settlements literally overnight, without obtaining permission from the Mandate authorities. These settlements were built on land purchased by the JNF and relied on an Ottoman law stating that any building with a full roof could not be torn down.
In 1933 The Jewish Agency negotiated a Ha'avara (Transfer) Agreement with Nazi Germany under which approximately 50,000 German Jews were allowed to immigrate to Palestine and retain some of their assets as German export goods.
In 1943 The Jewish Agency's Henrietta Szold joined Recha Freier in developing the Youth Aliyah program, which between 1933 and 1948 rescued more 5,000 young Jews from Europe, brought them to Palestine, and educated them in special boarding schools. According to Professor Dvora Hacohen, between 1933 and 2011 the Youth Aliyah movement has helped over 300,000 young people make Aliyah.
When World War II broke out, The Jewish Agency established a committee to aid European Jewry by finding them entry permits to Palestine, sending them food, and maintaining contact. The Agency also helped recruit 40,000 members of the Palestinian Jewish community (a full 8 percent of the Jewish population of Palestine) to be trained by the British military and aid in the Allies' struggle against the Nazis;most served in the Middle East and Africa, but many, including 32 parachutists, served behind enemy lines in Europe.800 (among them Hannah Szenes) were killed in their efforts.
When World War II ended The Agency continued to aid illegal immigration to Palestine through HaMossad LeAliyah Bet in an effort known as the Bricha. Between 1945 and 1948 The Jewish Agency send 66 ships of refugees to Palestine. Most were intercepted by British authorities, who placed the illegal immigrants, who had just survived the Holocaust, in detention camps in Palestine and later in Cyprus. Only with the establishment of the State of Israel were the detainees allowed to enter the country.
Resistance, and Formation of Israel's First Government
Frustrated with Great Britain's continued anti-Zionist stance, The Jewish Agency helped put together an agreement signed by the Hagannah, the Irgun, and the Lehi to form a United Resistance Movement against the British. In 1946 British troops raided Jewish Agency headquarters as part of Operation Agatha, a broad effort to quash Jewish resistance in Palestine. Important figures in The Agency including Moshe Sharett, head of The Agency's political department, and Dov Yosef, member of The Agency's Executive Committee, were arrested and imprisoned in Latrun.
The United Nations decided to partition Palestine on 29 November 1947. Meanwhile, The Jewish Agency collaborated with the Jewish National Council to set up a People's Council (Mo'ezet Ha'am) and National Administration (Minhelet Ha'am). With the declaration of independence on 14 May 1948, these two bodies formed the provisional government of the State of Israel.
The Jewish Agency for Israel
Post-State Immigration, Settlement, and Infrastructure
Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, The Jewish Agency for Israel shifted its focus to facilitating economic development and absorbing immigrants. Organizationally, it changed its structure: The Aliyah Department remained, as well as the Education Department (which promoted Jewish and Zionist education in the diaspora), but the Security and Government Departments were replaced by the Department of Agriculture and Settlement, and by the Israel Department (supporting activities that help vulnerable populations within Israel).
The Agency's budget in 1948 was IL 32 million; its funding came from Keren Hayesod, the JNF, fund-raising drives, and loans.
In 1949, The Jewish Agency brought 239,000 Holocaust survivors, from DP camps in Europe and detention camps in Cyprus, to Israel. In the years following Israel's founding, Jews in many Arab countries suffered from violence and persecution, and fled or were driven from their homes. The Agency helped to airlift 49,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet, and over the next few years brought hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees to Israel from Northern Africa, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.
Between 1948 and 1952, about 700,000 immigrants arrived in the new state. The Jewish Agency helped these immigrants acclimate to Israel and begin to build new lives. It established schools to teach them Hebrew, beginning with Ulpan Etzion in 1949. (The first student to register for Ulpan Etzion was Ephraim Kishon.) It also provided them with food, housing, and vocational training. For a time the construction of new housing could not keep up with demand, and many of the new immigrants were placed in temporary ma'abarot, or transit camps.
In 1952 the "Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency for Israel Status Law" was passed by the Knesset formalizing the roles of each group. It was agreed that the WZO and The Jewish Agency would continue to supervise Aliyah, absorption, and settlement, while the state would handle all other matters previously dealt with by The Agency including security, education, and employment.
In the early years of the state The Jewish Agency aided in the establishment of a variety of different institutions that developed the country's economic and cultural infrastructure. These included El Al, the national airline; Binyanei HaUma, the national theater and cultural center; and museums, agricultural, and land development companies.
In the years after 1948, The Agency's Department of Agricultural Settlement established an additional 480 new towns and villages throughout Israel. It provided them with equipment, livestock, irrigation infrastructure, and expert guidance. By the late 1960s these towns produced 70% of Israel's total agricultural output.
The Agency also focused its energies on Jews outside of Israel. The Department for Education and Culture in the Diaspora and the Department of Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora were created to help replace the loss of centers of Jewish learning destroyed by the Holocaust. They trained Hebrew teachers; sent Israelis abroad to supplement Diaspora schools, camps, and youth organizations; and trained cantors, shochatim (ritual slaughterers) and mohelim (ritual circumcisers) in Diaspora communities.
Immigration and Absorption 1967-1990's
Jewish pride and euphoria following Israel's dramatic victory in the Six Day War of 1967 prompted a new wave of immigration. In order to aid in the absorption of this influx of immigrants, the Israeli government's Ministry for Absorption was created in June 1968, taking over some aspects of absorption from The Agency and the ZO.
In the 1980s The Jewish Agency began to bring the Ethiopian Jewish Community to Israel. On Operation Moses and Operation Joshua more than 8,000 immigrants were airlifted out of Ethiopia. In 1991 about 14,400 Ethiopian Jews were flown to Israel in the space of 36 hours on Operation Solomon. Since then, a steady trickle of immigrants have been brought to Israel from Ethiopia by The Jewish Agency. The Agency has taken charge of housing them in absorption centers, teaching them Hebrew, helping them find employment and in general easing their integration into Israeli society. In 2013 most of the olim, or new immigrants, in absorption centers are from Ethiopia.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Russian and Eastern European Jews began to stream to Israel in the tens of thousands. In 1990, about 185,000 immigrants arrived from the FSU; in the following year, nearly 150,000 came; and for the rest of the decade a steady average of 60,000 immigrants from the region made their way to Israel every year. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, nearly a million Jews and their family members from the former Soviet Union have made Aliyah, presenting tremendous absorption challenges. The Jewish Agency has helped them to integrate through a variety of programs including Hebrew language instruction, placement in absorption centers, and job training.
Program Expansion 1990's - 2009
In 1994, The Jewish Agency, together with the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, established Partnership 2000. Now known as Partnership2Gether or P2G, the program connects 45 Israeli communities with over 500 Jewish communities around the globe in a "sister city"-style network. Diaspora participants travel to Israel and vice verse, and are hosted by their partner communities; schools are connected through the Global Twinning Network; global Jewish communities support loan funds helping entrepreneurs and small business owners in their partner cities; and young Jewish adults in Israel on long-term programs meet with their Israeli peers for dialogue and workshops.
The Jewish Agency provides Jewish communities outside Israel a continuum of programming to "bring Israel" to local worldwide Jewish communities.They do this in part through "shlichim," or emissaries. Shlichim are Israeli educators or cultural ambassadors, who spend an extended period of time (2 months to 5 years) abroad to "bring Israel" to the community. Shlichim are also posted at college campuses in organizations like Hillel or active in youth organizations.
Other Jewish Agency-sponsored programs that are instrumental in inspiring Jewish youth with a connection to Israel are "Israel Experiences" (educational visits to Israel) such as Taglit-Birthright Israel, a 10-day visit to Israel provided free-of-charge to young Jewish adults. The Jewish Agency is an important organizational partner in the Taglit-Birthright initiative.
In 2004, The Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel together created (and continue to co-sponsor as of 2014) Masa Israel Journey, which provides stipends to young Jews between the ages of 18–30 who would like to study, volunteer, or perform internships in Israel for a period of 5–12 months.
The Jewish Agency's Israel Department focused (and continues to focus) on strengthening Israel's periphery, namely the Galilee region in the north and the Negev in the South. The emergence of the high-tech industry in Israel has created a significant socio-economic disparity between the center of country and the outer regions. Thus, the Jewish Agency seeks to "lessen cultural and economic gaps."
For example, its Youth Futures program includes a holistic approach to dealing with at-risk youth in Israel: each child, referred to the program by a teacher or social worker, is connected to a "Mentor" who is responsible for connecting the child to resources and community services. The Jewish Agency is also a significant partner in the Net@ program offered by Cisco Systems. Program participants are Israeli high school students in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, who study the Cisco computer curriculum and earn certification as computer technicians; they also engage in volunteering and study democratic values.
New strategic plan (since 2009)
At the February 2010 Board of Governors meeting, Natan Sharansky announced a shift in the priorities of The Jewish Agency from aliyah to strengthening Jewish identity for young adults around the world.
From 1948 until 2009, The Jewish Agency was organized into departments: the Aliyah and Absorption department, which was responsible for the immigration and integration of Jews coming to Israel; the Education department, which worked to deepen the connection of Jews worldwide to Israel; and the Israel department, which focused on improving the lives of socio-economically vulnerable Israelis. (A fourth department, for Agriculture and Settlement, had been in operation starting in 1948, but had closed long before 2009.)
In order to increase efficiency, The Jewish Agency, under the leadership of its new Chairman of the Executive, Natan Sharansky, decided to restructure the organization. The three main departments were reorganized into the following six program units:
- Israel Experiences – provides opportunities for young Jews from around the world to encounter Israel and meet Israelis, and for Israelis to meet them
- Shlichim and Israel Fellows – sends Israeli emissaries to Diaspora communities worldwide to strengthen Jewish identity and connection to Israel
- Russian-Speaking Jewry – runs programs for Russian-speaking Jews of all ages around the world, with a focus on Jewish education and building Jewish communal leadership
- Social Activism – aids the vulnerable in Israel and around the world, and trains young Jews and Israelis to engage in social activism
- Partnerships - oversees Partnership2Gether, connecting Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora to learn from each other and to build a sense of global Jewish peoplehood
- Aliyah, Absorption, and Special Operations – aids all immigrants with the Aliyah (resettlement in Israel) process and integration both before and after their arrival, and rescues Jews from areas of distress to bring them to Israel
Each program unit reports directly to The Jewish Agency's Director General. Additionally, The Agency’s support units – such as human resources, marketing, and finance—which had until 2009 existed independently for each department, were trimmed and consolidated into single units that serve the entire organization.
Along with the organizational restructuring came a new focus. As the first decade of the 21st century came to a close, The Agency noted that most of global Jewry was now located in democratic, stable societies that were relatively friendly to Jewish residents. As "Aliyah of Rescue" became urgent for decreasing numbers of Jews, new challenges were arising for world Jewry, most notably, Agency leaders remarked, the need to engage young Jews in Jewish culture and to help Israeli Jews and those who live outside Israel to understand each other and feel connected to what they call the "global Jewish family." While continuing "Aliyah of Rescue" operations, The Agency decided to focus its primary energies on fostering a strong relationship between world Jewry and Israel, and on encouraging Aliyah based on a love for the country, what it calls "Aliyah of Choice." Its main vehicle for doing so would be to bring Jews from around the world to Israel on short- and long-term tourist programs to allow them to get to know the country and to give Israelis the opportunity to get to know them and vice verse. Parallel to these efforts, The Agency decided to increase its investment in strengthening Jewish communities around the globe. Its goals would be to grow local Jewish leadership, to strengthen Jewish identity, and to deepen the connection of communities worldwide to Israel and to the Jewish people as a whole.
- The Assembly, which meets at least once every two years, is the supreme governing body of The Jewish Agency. It has 518 delegates who are elected in the following manner: 259 of the members (50 percent) are designated by the WZO; 155 of the members (30 percent) are designated by the Jewish Federations of North America/United Israel Appeal (JFNA/UIA); and 104 of the members (20 percent) are designated by Keren Hayesod. The Assembly is responsible for determining basic policies and goals of The Jewish Agency; receiving and reviewing reports from the Board of Governors; making recommendations on major issues; and adopting resolutions on the above.
- The Board of Governors, which meets not less than three times a year, is the central policy-making body of The Jewish Agency. The 120 Governors play a crucial role in the governance of the Agency in overseeing budgets and operations and in recommending policy to the Agency. Members of the Board are elected to serve for a two-year term in the following manner: 60 of the members (50 percent) are designated by WZO; 36 of the members (30 percent) are designated by JFNA/UIA; 24 members (20 percent) are designated by Keren Hayesod. The Board of Governors determines policy of The Jewish Agency for Israel and manages, supervises, controls, and directs its operations and activities. The current chairperson of the Board of Governors is Mr. James S. Tisch.
- The Jewish Agency Executive has 26 members, of which 24 are chosen by the Board of Governors. The Executive is composed in the following manner: 12 members designated by WZO and 12 members designated jointly by JFNA/UIA and Keren Hayesod. In addition, the World Chairperson of Keren Hayesod and the Chairperson of the JFNA Executive are ex-officio members in the Executive. The Executive is charged with administering the operations of The Jewish Agency, subject to the control of the Board of Governors. The current Chairperson of the Executive is Mr. Natan Sharansky.
Over the years the Executive board has included many prominent members of Israeli society. Some of the famous Israelis who have served on the board include: M. D. Eder – 1922; Frederick Kisch – 1922–31; Haim Arlosoroff – 1931–33; Moshe Shertok – 1933–48; Arthur Ruppin – 1933–35; David Ben-Gurion (Chairman of the Executive) – 1935–48
- The Director General is responsible, under the direction of the Chairperson of the Executive, for the implementation of policies established by the Assembly, the BOG and the Executive. In addition, he/she is responsible for all operations and administration of The Jewish Agency, including implementation of long-term strategic goals. The current Director General of The Jewish Agency is Mr. Alan Hoffmann, who was previously the Director General of The Jewish Agency's Education Department. He is the first immigrant to hold the position of Director General.
Chairmen of the Executive Since 1948
- Berl Locker – 1948–56
- Zalman Shazar – 1956–61
- Moshe Sharet – 1961–65
- Arie Lous Pincus – 1965–73
- Pinhas Sapir – 1974–75
- Yosef Almogi 1974–75
- Aryeh Dolchin – 1978–87
- Simha Dinitz – 1987–94
- Avraham Burg – 1995–99
- Sallai Meridor – 1999–05
- Ze'ev Bielski – 2005–09
- Natan Sharansky – 2009–
Funding and budget
The Jewish Agency is primarily supported by the Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and Jewish communities across the globe. The Jewish Agency is also supported by donor contributions from throughout the world, including Israel, where a growing number of philanthropists have joined through the Spirit of Israel campaign to support the organization's projects and activities.
Due to the volatile U.S. dollar, the global economic crisis and the Madoff scandal, The Jewish Agency for Israel has recently been forced to make significant cuts to its budget. The Board of Governors voted to cut $45 million in November 2008 and an additional $26 million at the February 2009 meeting.
As of 2013, The Jewish Agency sponsors dozens of programs that serve to connect Jews to Israel and to each other. The Agency organizes the programs into four different categories: Israel Experiences, Aliyah, Jewish Social Action, and Israel in Your Community.
According to its website, The Jewish Agency's Israel Experience programs bring young Jews from around the globe to Israel to get to know the country and to deepen their Jewish identities.
- Taglit-Birthright Israel provides ten-day educational trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26 from around the world, completely free of charge. The Jewish Agency is the largest organizational partner in the initiative and is directly involved in bringing over 9,000 participants on Taglit each year.
- Onward Israel organizes 6-to-10-week professional internships in Israel for students and young professionals.
- Masa Israel Journey acts as an umbrella for over 200 gap year, study abroad, post-college and volunteer programs lasting 5 to 12 months, sponsoring over 10,000 participants per year. Masa provides significant scholarships to participants, performs high-impact outreach, and operates alumni activities. The Jewish Agency and the government of Israel co-founded Masa in 2004.
- Connect Israel runs social events and provides career workshops and other services for young urban immigrants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The Jewish Agency still brings thousands of Jews to move to Israel each year. In 2012, The Agency helped a total of 16,557 olim (immigrants) make Aliyah, of whom 7,234 came from the FSU and 2,432 came from Ethiopia. The Agency continues to support these olim as they integrate into Israeli society.
- Aliyah of Rescue is The Jewish Agency’s Aliyah infrastructure that brings Jews suffering persecution or economic distress to Israel.
- Aliyah Services are provided by The Jewish Agency to prospective immigrants around the world. Agency shlichim, or emissaries, give guidance on issues such as education, housing, health and employment opportunities in Israel. Additionally, The Agency is responsible for verifying that each potential immigrant is eligible for Aliyah under Israel’s Law of Return and, once eligibility is proven, for facilitating the receipt of the Aliyah visa via the local Israeli embassy or consulate.
- Absorption Centers around the country offer temporary housing for new immigrants and provide space for Hebrew instruction, preparation for life and employment in Israel, events, activities and cultural presentations. 17 of The Agency’s 23 Absorption Centers cater specifically to Ethiopian olim and provide services tailored to the needs of the Ethiopian community. The other 6 house immigrants from around the world, primarily the FSU, South America, and the Middle East.
- Centers for Young Adults provide ulpan classes, accommodations and a range of services to ease absorption for olim ages 18–35. These Centers include Beit Brodetzky in Tel Aviv; Ulpan Kinneret in Tiberias, for high school graduates looking for job or army preparation; Kibbutz Ulpan, combining Hebrew instruction with volunteer work on ten different kibbutzim; and the Ulpan Etzion network for college graduates and young professionals.
- Ulpan: Intensive Hebrew Language Programs for new immigrants include five hours of immersive language instruction, five days a week, for five months. The programs are offered free of charge to all new immigrants. Ulpan instructors are certified by the Ministry of Education.
- TAKA combines ulpan studies with pre-academic preparatory courses for immigrants headed to Israeli colleges who wish to polish their skills.
- Wings encompasses an array of services including practical guidance and personal mentorship for young immigrants who join the IDF as lone soldiers, far from their families.
Jewish Social Action
According to its website, an integral part of The Jewish Agency’s mission is helping populations in need in Israel and around the world.
- Youth Futures is a community-based initiative for mentoring at-risk pre-teens and adolescents. In 2012-13, approximately 400 trained Youth Futures staff members worked with 12,000 students and their families in communities around Israel.
- Youth Villages provide safe, cost-effective boarding school settings for almost 1,000 young people ages 12 to 18 with severe emotional, behavioral and family problems. The four Jewish Agency Youth Villages help them succeed in and complete high school and enter the Israeli army with their peers.
- Project TEN brings together young Israelis and their Jewish peers from across the globe to work on sustainable projects in developing regions.
- Derech Eretz is an army mechina, or preparatory program, for young people from Israel’s outlying regions with few educational or professional opportunities. The program helps launch them on a path of engaged citizenship and lifelong success.
- Kol Ami is an army mechina that brings together Israeli and Diaspora Jews and delves into issues of Jewish peoplehood and Israel engagement.
- Young Communities are groups of idealistic young Israelis who commit to settling long-term in Israel’s high-need areas and creating social development programs that increase local quality of life. The Jewish Agency provides program grants and professional expertise, and in some cases helps the groups build self-sustaining social-entrepreneurship enterprises.
- Net@ gives high-performing teenagers an opportunity to rise above their families' socio-economic backgrounds by training them in marketable computer skills, leading to certification as computer and network technicians through Cisco Systems. The program is in addition to the participants' high school course load and also increases their English comprehension skills.
- Loan Funds assist entrepreneurs and business owners in Israel to open or expand their businesses, through loans with highly attractive conditions. The Jewish Agency acts as a partial guarantor for the loans, to support those businesses that otherwise would have a difficult time qualifying for loans or presenting the necessary collateral for them.
Israel in Your Community
In its mission to strengthen the ties between Israel and worldwide Jewry and to promote Jewish culture and identity, The Jewish Agency sends out shlichim, or emissaries, to Jewish communities across the globe, and partners Israel and Diaspora communities.
- Israel Fellows to Hillel are Israeli young adults who have completed army service and university study. The Campus Fellows travel for one to two years to North American university campuses with the goal of empowering student leadership and promoting positive engagement with Israel. In 2012-13, 56 Fellows served 70 campuses, each with at least 1000 Jewish students.
- Young Shlichim are active in Jewish schools, community centers, synagogues and youth movements. Between the ages of 22 and 30, they serve as a central resource for Israel education in the local community, working with local Federations and other Jewish communal institutions.
- FSU Summer and Winter Campsintroduce young Russian-speaking Jews in the former Soviet Union to their Jewish heritage. Staffed by trained local counselors and Russian-speaking Israeli counselors, participants are introduced to Jewish history, Jewish customs and practices, and Israel. The camps are followed up by year-round Jewish educational activities.
- Partnership2Gether "peoplehood platform" (P2G, previously known as Partnership 2000) connects some 550 communities around the world in 45 partnerships.
- The Global School Twinning Network connects schools in Israel to Jewish schools around the world, usually as part of a P2G partnership. Students share projects and communicate via Skype and Facebook. In 2012, the Network included 426 schools, serving about 40,000 children and teens.
- Jewish People Policy Institute was established in 2002 by The Jewish Agency for Israel as an independent professional policy planning think tank to promote the identity, culture, prosperity, and continuity of the Jewish People. Every year, Jewish leaders participate in JPPI's conferences and meetings that forecast the Jewish condition. Participants have included Dennis Ross, Shimon Peres, Natan Sharansky, Malcolm Hoenlein, and Tzipi Livni. The Institute conducts meetings, publishes reports and position papers, and produces contingency plans that help the development of Jewish communities around the world.
During the 2006 Lebanon War, the Jewish Agency moved 50,000 children from northern Israel to 50 residential camps out of the rocket range. 12,000 children went to Jewish Agency-equipped camp-style day care held in community centers. After a number of absorption centers were hit by rockets, The Jewish Agency moved 2,100 new immigrants to safety and distributed 2,700 bomb shelter kits. The Jewish Agency established a micro-business loan fund in the north to boost the local economy. In addition, the Israel Discount Bank partnered with the Jewish Agency, providing matching funds for capital projects there.
The Jewish Agency has played an important role in supporting the residents of Sderot and the surrounding area, which has been the target of many rockets launched from Gaza. More than 12,000 children have enjoyed respite activities in the center and north of the country; 300 educators have been trained to work with children living through trauma; supplemental educational activities have been offered to more than 2,000 students; the S.O.S. Emergency Fund for Victims of Terror has helped more than 200 people whose lives were directly affected by the Kassam attacks; 100 bomb shelters were renovated in the region; and 500 students received scholarships to study at Sapir College in Sderot.
Awards and recognition
On May 8, 2008, at the Israeli government's 60th Independence Day celebration, the Jewish Agency for Israel was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement & special contribution to society and the State of Israel.
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