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. 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."
It is best known as the primary organization fostering the immigration ("Aliyah") and absorption of Jews and their families from the Jewish diaspora into Israel. Since 1948 the Jewish Agency for Israel has brought 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 development of the State of Israel. David Ben Gurion served as the Chairman of its Executive Committee from 1935, and in this capacity on May 14, 1948 he proclaimed independence for the State of Israel. He became Israel's first Prime Minister. In the years before and after the founding of the state, the Jewish Agency oversaw the establishment of about 1,000 towns and villages in Mandate Palestine. It serves as the main link between Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
As of 2017 the Jewish Agency operates and/or funds programs worldwide that:
bring Jews to Israel on "Israel Experiences" trips, such as Masa Israel Journey and Onward Israel
bring "Israel in your community" through a variety of Jewish education and communal programs, such as Shlichim (emissaries), Partnership2Gether and programming for Jews in Russian-language countries
help vulnerable Israelis (both Jewish and Arab) and encourage "Jewish Social Action" in programs such as Youth Villages, Youth Futures, Young Activism, and Amigour subsidized housing
facilitate Aliyah and help immigrants integrate into Israeli society. For example, it conducts intensive Hebrew-language immersion programs in Israel and residential programs for immigrants aged 18 to 35.
As of 2016, The Jewish Agency sponsors dozens of programs that connect Jews to Israel and to each other. The Agency organizes the programs into four different categories: Israel Experiences, Israel in Your Community (Jewish and Zionist education in the Jewish diaspora), Jewish Social Action (helping vulnerable Israelis), and Aliyah.
The Israel Experience programs bring young Jews from around the globe to Israel to get to know the country and 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-Birthright each year, with a special focus on facilitating Taglit-Birthright experiences and related programming for communities in need and for Russian-speaking Jews in the former Soviet Union and Germany.
Onward Israel organizes 6- to 10-week professional internships in Israel for students and young professionals who have previously visited Israel on Taglit-Birthright or another group tour. Participants come in groups, all from the same community or organization.
Masa Israel Journey is a public-service organization founded in 2004 by the Government of Israel's Office of the Prime Minister, together with The Jewish Agency. It includes a portfolio of more than 200 programs in Israel for Jews aged 18–30, including study programs, service programs, and career development. Programs last from 2–12 months. It sponsors over 10,000 participants per year. Masa provides significant scholarships to participants, performs outreach, and operates alumni activities.
Israel Tech Challenge is a partnership of The Jewish Agency with the
National Cyber Bureau and other partners and donors. It offers trips to Israel of varying lengths for students and young professionals (aged 18–30) with knowledge in the field of computer science and programming. The programs offer visits with Israeli hi-tech professionals and academics, along with experience or training in coding, cyber security and/or data science.
Machon Le'Madrichim trains, in Israel, Jewish counselors of Zionist youth movements around the world, to give them tools for running educational Zionist programs in their home communities when they return. It was founded in 1946 by the World Zionist Organization. As of 2013, it had 12,000 alumni from South America, the United States, South Africa, Australia, North Africa, and Europe.
Na'ale allows Jewish teenagers from the diaspora to study in Israel and earn a high school diploma. Students start the program in ninth or tenth grade and graduate after the twelfth grade with a full Israeli matriculation certificate (bagrut). During the first year, students follow an intensive Hebrew-language program so that they become able to speak, read and write in Hebrew. The program is fully subsidized by the Israeli government. The Na'ale scholarship includes: fully subsidized tuition, free ticket to Israel, room and board, health insurance, trips, and extra curricular activities. Na'ale offers a variety of schools all over Israel from which candidates may choose, including secular, national religious, ultra-orthodox, kibbutz, and urban boarding schools.
Jewish and Zionist education outside Israel
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; partners with Israel and Diaspora communities, and operates and/or funds Jewish educational programs for Russian-speaking Jews and their children. It also supports Jewish inclusion and diversity programs.
Israel Fellows to Hillel are Israeli young adults who have completed army service and university study. The Campus Fellows travel for two years to North American university campuses with the goal of empowering student leadership and promoting positive engagement with Israel. According to The Jewish Agency, the aims of an Israel Fellow are to "create an ongoing Israel presence for Jewish students and the broader community . . . . partner with student organizations, campus study abroad offices, Jewish and Israel studies departments, local Jewish federations, Israeli consulates, and Jewish Community Centers . . . [and] follow through with Taglit-Birthright trip alumni via one-on-one meetings and special programs and events to keep them active and encourage them to continue their Jewish journeys while in college." In 2014–15, 70 Fellows were sent to campuses in North America, South America, and other regions.
Shlichim (Jewish Agency "emissaries") are active in communal organizations, Jewish schools, community centers, synagogues and youth movements. There are also Summer Shlichim who serve in Jewish summer camps. They serve as a central resource for Israel education in the local community. In the 2014-15 program year, The Jewish Agency sent 1,120 short-term emissaries to summer camps, and 295 long-term emissaries to countries around the world (not including the Israel Fellows).
Programs for Russian-speaking Jewry The organization has developed special outreach to Russian Jewry, because they have largely been separated from Jewish communities even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Only an estimated 20 percent of the 800,000 Jews across former Soviet states are engaged in Jewish life. And Russian Jews who have emigrated to other countries have often been separated from Jewish community life. The Agency runs programs for them (in the former Soviet Union, North America, Germany, Australia, and Israel) that fall are organized into four areas: (1) Camping, youth education, and counselor training (2) leadership training (3) visits to Israel (4) Focus on facilitation of Aliyah from the former Soviet Union and Germany.
FSU Summer and Winter Camps introduce 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 Agency organizes counselors to follow up with attendees in year-round Jewish educational activities. In 2015, some 6,800 participants in the former Soviet Union attended sleepaway camps and 455 went to day camps.
Partnership2Gether (P2G, previously known as Partnership 2000) is the "peoplehood platform" that connects some 450 Jewish and Israeli communities in 46 partnerships. The program has more than 350,000 participants each year. Its goals are to "connect the global Jewish family, increase Jewish identity, strengthen Israeli society, create living bridges to Israel and understanding of life in the Jewish state, and increase understanding of the rich variety of religious expression and renewal around the world."
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. The Network includes 668 schools in 334 pairings, serving about 52,000 children and teens.
Clergy in the Conservative Judaism movement read from a Torah scroll.
Support for Religious Streams: In 2014, The Jewish Agency allocated $2.8 million to 30 educational programs in Israel under the auspices of the Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox movements. Their goal is to "help Israelis understand the varied expressions of Judaism outside Israel, and help Jews worldwide feel that their styles of Jewish expression can find a home in Israel."
The Emergency Assistance Fund provides for physical security improvements, such as video surveillance & CCTV, alarms, locks, gates, and reinforced walls/doors/windows, at synagogues, Jewish community centers, schools, and camps so that Jewish communal life can continue in greater safety. Jewish institutions outside Israel and North America are eligible for assistance. Recipients have included institutions in Argentina, Brazil, Greece, South Africa, and others. In 2014, allocations totaled $2 million, to 95 communities in 25 countries.
The Jewish Agency also helps vulnerable populations in Israel and around the world.
Youth Futures is a community-based initiative for mentoring at-risk pre-teens and adolescents. Each Youth Futures "Mentor" works with 16 at-risk children over the course of three years, teaching skills for academic improvement and social integration. In 2014–15, approximately 350 trained Youth Futures staff members worked with 5,000 children and teens, plus 7,000 of their family members, in 200 schools in 35 communities in Israel. In addition to secular and traditional Jews, Youth Futures serves Arab, Bedouin, Druze, and Ultra-Orthodox communities.
Youth Villages provide safe, cost-effective boarding school settings for 850 young people ages 12 to 18 who have severe emotional, behavioral and family problems. The four Jewish Agency Youth Villages provide intensive, holistic services and help the youths 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. Participants spend three months working in onsite service projects in vulnerable communities. Project TEN is a service-learning program designed to build participants' Jewish identities while they serve others. In 2016, Project TEN runs volunteer centers in Winneba, Ghana; Oaxaca, Mexico; Gondar, Ethiopia;
Kibbutz Harduf, Israel; and Arad, Israel. In 2015 the program involved 200 volunteers around the world.
Mechinot: Post-High School Service Learning programs provide Israeli 18–19-year-olds with a 6-month opportunity for Jewish study, volunteering, skill-building, and personal development in the period between their graduation from high school and their induction to the IDF. The programs encourage a mix of self-reliance and communal responsibility; they give the high school graduates a framework in which to develop leadership abilities, and increase their chances of acceptance to a more high-level or elite army unit. This preparation can improve their career trajectory for the long-term. Participants live, work, and study together in small groups with inspiring role models. There are four clusters of such programs: (a) Derech Eretz, Alma, and Harel are pre-army mechinot, or preparatory programs, for young people from Israel's outlying regions with few educational or professional opportunities, or from socio-economically depressed neighborhoods. (b) Kol Ami brings together Israeli and Diaspora Jews. The Diaspora participants stay for three months, during which the entire group explores issues of the Jewish people and Israel; the Israelis stay on for another three months of army preparation. (c) Aharai! B'Ir, whose curriculum is similar to that of Derech Eretz, but differs in that it is a day program, based in urban settings, and therefore meets the needs of those Israeli high school graduates whose families are so poor that the young people must stay at home to work or care for family members until their army inductions. (d) Post-Army Mechinot helps just-released IDF soldiers transition into civilian life and learn vocational skills.
Young Activism includes programs that train and support young-adult Israeli volunteers, who go on to create their own social entrepreneurship projects, thus widening the circles of influence. The Young Activism programs include (a) support for
Young Communities, groups of idealistic young Israelis who commit to settling long-term in Israel's high-need areas and creating programs that increase local quality of life. (b) Choosing Tomorrow, which encourages university students in Israel's outlying areas to create Young Communities and settle long-term in the region (c) Ketzev, which provides extra training and mentoring to some of the Young Communities to help them build self-sustaining "social entrepreneurship" businesses, that provide cultural or educational benefits to customers. (d) Click, which provides micro-grants to individual volunteers or very small groups, to help them launch small-scale local projects. (e) The Young Adults' Hub in Arad, where dozens of Israelis and Diaspora Jews receive subsidized housing in exchange for their volunteer activities for the city.
[email protected] gives high-performing teenagers an opportunity to rise above their families' socio-economic backgrounds by training them for four years 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. In 2014, around 1,100 teens participated in the program, and another 400 children participated in [email protected] Junior.
Loan Funds assist entrepreneurs and business owners in Israel to open or expand their businesses, through loans with highly attractive conditions as well as comprehensive business guidance. 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. The various funds have different eligibility criteria, with some focusing on stimulating the economy in specific regions of Israel, and others focusing on specific populations of business owners, such as Israeli Arabs, Ethiopian-Israelis, immigrants, etc.
The Fund for Victims of Terror provides two forms of financial assistance to those who have been wounded, or had family members killed, in a terrorist attack or war against Israel. It provides immediate assistance in the 24–48 hours after the attack, and it provides subsidies for long-term rehabilitation needs. In 2014, the fund provided emergency grants to 120 families impacted by Operation Protective Edge, and more than 1 million shekels (around $250,000 according to the exchange rate at the time) to 80 families with long-term effects from Operation Pillar of Defense.
Amigour is a Jewish Agency subsidiary that provides housing for Israel's elderly. In 2014 it operated 57 facilities that housed 7,500 seniors, mainly Holocaust survivors. Additionally, it operates 13,000 public housing apartments that provide government-subsidized housing to 40,000 single-parent families, elderly, and new immigrants.
The Jewish Agency still brings thousands of Jews to move to Israel each year. In 2014, The Agency helped a total of nearly 26,500 olim (immigrants) make Aliyah, the highest number in 13 years. They noted significant growth in immigration from Ukraine and France. 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. The services include covert operations to help Jews move out of Middle Eastern and North African countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations.
Pre-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. For those who do not have an emissary nearby, The Agency provides assistance online and on the phone through its Global Service Center. 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 22 Absorption Centers cater specifically to Ethiopian olim and provide services tailored to the needs of the Ethiopian community. The other 5 house immigrants from around the world, primarily the FSU, South America, and the Middle East.
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.
Centers for Young Adults provide ulpan classes, accommodations and a range of services to ease absorption for olim ages 18–35. These Centers include the
Ulpan Etzion network for college graduates and young professionals; Beit Brodetzky in Tel Aviv and Ulpan Kinneret in Tiberias, for high school graduates looking for job or army preparation; and
Kibbutz Ulpan, combining Hebrew instruction with volunteer work on ten different kibbutzim. It also includes Selah, a program for high school graduates from the Former Soviet Union, and TAKA, which 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.