The Jewish Agency for Israel has been engaged primarily in reaching out to Diaspora Jews, but now it is also seeking to connect with Israelis living abroad by way of the Internet, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey is joining that effort.
Amy Cooper, the federation’s associate executive vice president and director of financial resource development, said the new initiative aims to link those Israelis — estimated by Jewish Agency at around one million in North America — with their home country, with the Jewish communities that they live in, and with one another.
Part of the effort is linking Israelis abroad with local Jewish federations. Previous attempts to make that connection have had mixed results. As one Israeli residing in Elizabeth — who asked not to be identified — told NJ Jewish News, “We aren’t used to deliberately connecting in a Jewish way — like with federation, or through synagogues. And we come here thinking it will just be a temporary thing, so we don’t look to get involved.”
The emigration of Israelis has always been a source of discomfort for Israelis and Diaspora Jews alike, although the movement of people from one Western-style democracy to another is hardly surprising in the age of globalization. Though many say they plan to return to Israel, their time overseas can stretch to many years.
Israeli and Diaspora Jews were historically reluctant to recognize the unique needs of the Israeli diaspora, but the new effort suggests that is changing,
The starting point for the new effort is a website. Israelis in the Diaspora are being invited to join a Hebrew-language site called The Marker Cafe, part of the well-established Ha’aretz Group. It offers support and advice and a venue to exchange ideas and experiences, to network, and to access resources in Israel and elsewhere. “Apparently, in the few months since it was launched, it has had thousands of hits,” said Cooper.
The program is being run through Partnership 2000, the Jewish Agency’s program that twins Jewish communities in the Diaspora with communities in Israel. The Central community, together with six others from New Jersey and Delaware, is engaged in a partnership with the Negev communities of Arad and Tamar.
The new on-line Israeli “community” has been developed by Iris Toledano, a P2K director and native-born Israeli who lived in North America for more than a decade before returning to Israel two years ago.
Raya Strauss Ben-Dror, the cochair of International P2K, has made a point of meeting with resident Israelis when she visits Jewish communities abroad, encouraging them to get involved with their local federations and with fellow Jews. Federations have also tried to draw in Israelis, but with mixed results.
According to Cooper, Natan Sharansky, as head of the Jewish Agency, “has made a priority of strengthening the bonds between Israelis and Jews abroad, and this is part of that effort.” The federation is helping to publicize the website, and Cooper said she hopes it will provide a way to let Israelis know about federation activities that might interest them.
Sapi Ziv came from Israel with her husband, Gonen, 22 years ago and now lives in Westfield. Unlike most Israelis, she has been active in their synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains, and she has played a leading role in the synagogue’s Israel Support Committee. She has also tried to involve other Israelis — with little success. She said, “I don’t know why they don’t connect with the Jewish communities. But let’s hope for the best with this website, that it works to bring people together.”
The Cafe Marker site is in Hebrew. To enroll, go to sso.themarker.com/sso/register.html. To learn more about this new on-line community, contact Amy Cooper at email@example.com or visit the federation’s website, www.jewishjerseycentral.org.