Natan Sharansky, new chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has signaled his intent to bring about radical change to the financially strapped Jewish Agency, shifting its focus away from aliyah to Israel and toward strengthening the secular identity of Diaspora Jews in recent addresses and the recent appointment to key positions of people who share his views.
At the center of Sharansky’s plan is the notion of peoplehood. He believes that the Jewish Agency must now become a global promoter of Jewish identity, particularly among the young. Peoplehood, according to its proponents, is defined as a sense of connectivity between Jews who share a common history and fate.
The planned cutback on the Jewish Agency's aliyah budgeting is also related to the sharp drop in funds handed over to the Agency by North American Federations over the last years. Given that Diaspora funds comprise one-third of the agency’s budget, this drop has been catastrophic for the large bureaucracy. Agency programming to promote Jewish Peoplehood could enable it to find new sources of funding and to create more commitment from federations.
Professor Gil Troy of McGill University endorses Sharansky's plan in eJewish Philanthropy.
"The Jewish Agency is uniquely positioned to educate for a modern Jewish identity focusing on peoplehood with Israel at its center – with the Jewish Agency carving out peoplehood platforms for identity-building throughout the Jewish world. This is a logical evolution – the elements are all there – but the branding and focus are lacking.
There is no Jewish Agency, no rationale for a Jewish Agency, without peoplehood. The Jewish Agency must be the global hothouse for nurturing those values, proud of its worldwide reach and its own roots in Eretz Yisrael the land of the Jewish people, and its commitment to the greatest collective Jewish undertaking of the last century, the State of Israel. We have to explain the idea of Peoplehood as the Jewish superglue, the sense of shared destiny uniting us, in good times and bad.
Just as drug abuse counselors call marijuana the Gateway drug, opening the way for all kinds of others we, levhadeel, should look at Peoplehood as the gateway Jewish value, opening the way to many other dimensions of identity. We will only restore it as a gateway value through education."