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Monday, March 24, 2008

Jewish Agency bankrupt, invites Ultraorthodox

 Last update - 05:40 24/03/2008       
Jewish Agency turns to Haredi donors as budget dwindles
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
As Jewish Agency funds dwindle, the immigration-oriented governmental body is turning to ultra-Orthodox philanthropists for donations to bring thousands of young Jews to Israel on organized trips, Haaretz has learned.
Sources involved in the talks between the Jewish Agency and the philanthropists said that next year, a Jewish Agency subsidiary called The Israel Experience will participate in the Moreshet program, which is funded by ultra-Orthodox donors. The agency has not worked with such donors in the past.
The program is meant to bring thousands of Jews from the Diaspora to visit Israel, while placing a special emphasis on Jewish studies and religious matters.
"There is an attempt here to bring a new kind of donor to the agency, because of the financial problems the organization is experiencing," a senior JA official said. Last week, Haaretz reported that the Jewish Agency is planning to close one of its most historically important branches, the Immigration and Absorption Department, as part of a radical restructuring plan.
"We are doing it via a subsidiary because in the past, ultra-Orthodox philanthropists and parties refrained from participating because of the organization's Zionist character," the official added.
Amos Hermon, director of The Israel Experience and head of the Jewish Agency task force on anti-Semitism, told Haaretz he was "pleased with every sort of [Jewish] group arriving for a visit in Israel." He noted the need to show visitors heritage sites as well as academic institutions and high-tech companies.
Haredi philanthropists already fund a program called Moreshet ("heritage"). Over the past several months, Moreshet has facilitated the arrival of some 900 Jewish students from all over the world. Unlike the more secular 10-day Taglit-birthright Israel program - which is partly funded by the Jewish Agency - Moreshet brings its participants for three-week visits that include more religious content, such as visits to yeshivas and Torah studies.
"The Moreshet program is a partnership between various parties seeking to instill young Jews with knowledge about Judaism - and the Agency sees great importance in connecting them to the state of Israel," a spokesman for the Jewish Agency said.
The new Jewish Agency program will be one of a series of programs funded by religious and ultra-Orthodox magnates.
Africa Israel chief Lev Leviev, for example, is funding a program that offers a $150-a-month scholarship for Russian Jews who agree to attend Judaism classes several days a week. Ze'ev and Aaron Wolfson are funding similar programs in the U.S., and Eli Horn is funding one in Brazil.
Ultra-Orthodox donors have in the past sought to get on board the Taglit-birthright program, and some have contributed. However, their involvement remained limited after they realized the plan's architects were reluctant to accept their requests to introduce more Jewish, rather than Zionist, content into the program.

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