The Jewish Agency’s importance to the Jewish people explained
By Shiva Beck
From Oct. 27 to 30 my husband Jarrod and I, along with our daughter, were set to spend three days at the Jewish Agency for Israel (Jewish Agency) Board of Governors (BOG) Meeting in Jerusalem. Nearly 14 hours into our 18-hour journey, the question crossed my mind as I nursed my 4-month-old, Lily: Why am I doing this? It’s a long flight, especially with a baby.
My thoughts turned to the challenges my family endured. I was born in Shiraz, Iran, the youngest of five children, a few days before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. My family had lived in Shiraz for 2,500 years. As Iran is and was an Islamic country, my family had experiences being a minority in their native country, which not only instilled in us gratitude for living in the United States, but also a unique understanding of the difficulties — the anti-Semitism and the instability — that Jews living as minorities outside of the United States face. My family immigrated to the United States at the end of 1979.
I also thought about David Ben-Gurion. He proclaimed Israel’s independence May 14, 1948, in his role as chairman of the Jewish Agency. He then became Israel’s first prime minister. I knew that this was an organization worth my time even if it meant leaving my two older children (ages 3 and 1) in Dallas because this is the organization that would help secure my children’s future as Jews in the Diaspora and fuel their connection to my homeland Israel.
The Jewish Agency, in its 90th year, has launched a 10-year plan. As Isaac Herzog, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency, stated “We will work to provide concrete solutions to the challenges facing the Jewish people — mending the rifts among our people, building a two-way bridge between Israel and world Jewry, encouraging aliyah and providing security for Jews around the world.”
The Jewish Agency’s commitment to aliyah and ensuring the safety of Jews worldwide means that the Jewish Agency receives requests for program funding and security assistance from Jewish people and sites around the world (outside of North America).
Additionally, the Jewish Agency rescues Jews around the world and brings them to safety in Israel. While most of that work is not public for security reasons, the Jewish Agency rescued the last of Yemeni Jews in the past two years.
Nearly two months ago, as Jews all over the world were going to synagogue for one of the most sacred days of the year, Yom Kippur, another synagogue was targeted by hate. This one in the small town of Halle, Germany. Although there were 55 worshippers inside the synagogue, the terrorist was not able to gain access to inside the synagogue. Two bystanders were killed, but it could have been a lot worse. The main difference between this outcome and that of the synagogue in Pittsburgh was that a few years ago, the synagogue in Halle had applied for a small grant from the Jewish Agency to install security cameras and steel doors. Those security measures were approved and funded recently. As a result, the lives of the 55 people inside the synagogue were saved.
Another major focus of the Jewish Agency over the next decade is connecting Jews worldwide. It does this through the myriad organizations and programs that the Jewish Agency funds and supports, including youth programs such as MASA and Onward Israel, Partnership, the Twinning program (in which students from Jewish day schools spend a semester in Israel, living with host families, and subsequently, children of those host families come to the United States and spend a semester in the Jewish day schools), Birthright, and Amigour (which houses Holocaust survivors and other seniors, who have made aliyah over the past 70 years), to name a few. Additionally, the Jewish Agency trains and sends emissaries (shlichim) to various communities throughout the world, who build relationships with the local community and serve as a liaison to Israeli culture.
The third area of focus, in its 10th decade, is giving a voice to the Jewish people and impact on Israeli society. The Jewish Agency’s BOG comprises the most diverse Jewish body of people — it is made up of 120 members, with World Zionist Organization (WZO) comprising 60 of those members (i.e., the president of Hadassah, president of WIZO–Women’s International Zionist Organization, B’nai Brith, the leaders of the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements are all represented within WZO), 36 members coming from the Jewish Federations of North America, and 24 members from Keren Hayesod.
The Jewish Agency holds a unique title as the only convening body that interacts with Jews worldwide and with representatives of the State of Israel all within the same organization. With these members, the Jewish Agency tackles the most important issues to Jews everywhere. For example, it is the Jewish Agency that has been working to reach an agreement with the Israeli government to create an egalitarian section of the Wall, in which men and women pray together. It is the Jewish Agency that is working to change which marriages outside of Israel are accepted by the State of Israel. The Jewish Agency gives us a voice in the discussion and is the conduit to effect change in Israel and in Jewish communities worldwide.
I am honored to be a member of the Jewish Agency’s BOG and not only represent Jews in the Diaspora, but also lend a voice to the hundreds of thousands of Jews that have left their native countries in hopes of a more tolerant society. And, I’m proud to be part of an organization that is looking out for all Jews, whether they are in Israel, or in the Diaspora and to know that on a moment’s notice, if a Jew needed to be rescued from anywhere in the world, the Jewish Agency has the resources and tools to complete such a mission.
The Jewish Agency is able to do this work because of its historic partnership with JFNA. The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas invests approximately 34% of its annual campaign to Israel & Overseas, with approximately $1.3 million of such funds going to the Jewish Agency. As members of the Jewish community in Dallas, it is incumbent on us to not only support the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas in its work, but to also ensure that the work it does in Israel and Overseas is continued. We should all be proud to be part of the Jewish people, who have created an organization like the Jewish Agency that interfaces directly with the Israeli government to look out for the interests of Jews wherever they are in the world and to have a contingency plan for them. To save one life is to save the world.
The Jewish Agency also connects Jews worldwide by bridging the diversity of identities, interests and religious streams in the Jewish world. They do this through a myriad of programs, including their shlichut program (sending emissaries to different parts of the world), MASA, and Onward Israel. Finally, the Jewish Agency brings the diversity of voices in the Jewish world to Israeli policy and law makers and to the Israeli society at-large.