Jewish Geography

On Monday morning some of us OTZMAnikim made our way into Jerusalem for the day to gain an insider perspective into the Jewish world. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Lauren, the Jewish world? You are in the Jewish world! For one, you are Jewish. And for two, you’re in Israel for crying out loud!” Well, for one, Israel isn’t as Jewish as you may think. And for two, half the world’s Jews live outside of Israel. As a side note, the second highest Jewish population on this planet Earth is in the United States.

The morning began with a roundtable discussion of a few of us OTZMAnikim meeting with the President and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, aka a big guy in the Jewish world. He wanted to meet with us to hear why we decided to do OTZMA, what our dreams and ambitions are, and to say thank you. He was extremely inspiring to listen to, and also very motivational. He told us how there should be no barriers attached to our dreams, that we should go on the path of what we want to do and to know that we will get there.

After meeting with him we chatted and caught up, as many of us had not seen each other in quite a few weeks. Then four of us made our way to a day-long meeting regarding social activism in the Jewish world. Found at this meeting were Jewish people from all over the world that are heads of their Jewish federations, Zionist organizations, etc. Many of the people there were from all over the United States since the Federations go state by state. Four of us OTZMAnikim, along with a few other people from other programs, were in there playing the role of ‘subjects.’

A major problem right now is that not many young Jews do not want to work in the Jewish world as heads of Federations, etc. Many come to Israel on these programs, and then go back home and start their life of becoming lawyers, doctors, financial advisors, you know… heh heh heh. It was our job to say what they can do to recruit people to work in, and even not make it their full-time profession, but just to simply be more socially active within the Jewish world.

We started with an introduction from the head of the conference and then broke up into small groups with a short reading about social justice and Tikun Olam. From there we heard another speaker who presented the problem and kind of put the ball in our court to then start solving it. She first talked about why we come to Israel. She said how a journey starts with a search, and it will be transformative and life-altering. The journey is not just about exposure to new people and places, but it is also about re-discovering what was in ourselves before we left.

The frameworks with which we had to touch upon were social activism, pro-Israel advocacy, culture, those of the established Jewry, innovation, and social action & the environment. The main problem is that there are 10,000 MASA [organization who heads all of the Israel long-term programs] graduates every year and they’re getting lost. She recommended that MASA needs to measure where these people are going, because they have yet to make an impact on the Jewish world upon leaving Israel. She wants to thicken the conversation and action among Jews and through this, capture what Jewish engagement is all about.

One thing she mentioned, which I’ve come to find is very true, is that no matter where you’re from in the world, if you’re Jewish you are strikingly similar. The problem is, us as Jews have become disconnected, and we’re not really working together outside of our own country. I think this is in part due to the cultures of the world changing and they themselves are becoming closer together. I also feel that now that Jews have a country they can come to where they belong, unlike in the past, they don’t need to separate themselves in diasporas as much.

We then heard about the history of the Jewish Agency which was created with the idea of creating what is today, Israel. In the current day there are an immense number of theories of change. The Jewish Agency now plays a role today in measurement, looking at partnerships, unique added value, and looking at the demand (and not just the supply) side of the situation.

We then heard a man speak who focused on changes going on in the Middle East. He said how this is the time to be free in Israel, to belong to Israel. How exactly though, do you bring that feeling home? (Home which = being all over the world). He talked about the main focus of the day: Translating Israel experiences into activism at home.

So what exactly, do Jewish/Mega cities of service look like? Embed Jewish DNA into it, Universal and Jewish values, and a love for Israel. We are reaching the end of the beginning, we are at the very forefront to start making change. He thought we should involve Israelis into this, make them more aware that there is another half of our people living outside of just this small country. He mentioned how many Israelis who, for example, are graduating from high school don’t realize this.

We then focused on Israel Jewry vs. World Jewry. From France around 500 MASA participants come to Israel on a program every year. In France there is no real Jewish landscape, you are either Orthodox or you will choose to make Aliyah to Israel. This is the same in other countries such as Hungary. But in North America the challenge is harder because it’s “better” there Jewishly. This is due to the fact there are different forms of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, and everything in between). Jews are also more accepted in North America than elsewhere.

In North America there are also many local opportunities for activism. How do those get occupied? We concluded that there must be a mediation between what is in existence and people coming back from Israel. There needs to be no more just one happy-hour event in Boston with a room full of Jews. They need to come together more, for something longer, for something more tangible.

After this we went to lunch for a sort of meet and greet. We then came back and split into three groups to focus on solutions. Within my group we concluded that a type of “Jewish social network” needs to be created and enacted. This way Jewish people who are are around my age have a better opportunity to meet. Within the MASA community there is a similar online tool but it needs to be better marketed to those who are participating on MASA programs, have already taken part in a MASA program, or are thinking about doing one in their future. We all have something unique in common, why not discuss and bond over it? People need to be reached through more than just an e-mail every once in awhile.

A woman who was in my group used to serve on the OTZMA board. She said that OTZMA is considered a “gem” in the Jewish world. This is in part due to the fact that it served as the basis for other MASA programs. The head of MASA today looked at OTZMA and thought to himself, why not have hundreds of other programs similar to this one, but tailored to other peoples interests? Then we can gain tens of thousands of participants. How cool is that? I’m all about being inspired, so to think the program I am on inspired other MASA programs is really something for me.

Tens of thousands of Jewish participants from all over the world every year. That is a lot! If we could all connect and realize not just how small the world is, but much smaller the Jewish world is, now wouldn’t that be something?

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