Behind the Headlines Rivlin: if the Jewish Agency Didn’t Exist It Would Have to Be Created
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Behind the Headlines Rivlin: if the Jewish Agency Didn’t Exist It Would Have to Be Created

The Jewish Agency was established in 1927 when the Jewish population of Palestine numbered only 149,789. Its primary task then was to assist Jews living in Palestine and to help those Jews in the diaspora who wanted to immigrate to the land of Zion. Since 1927 more than 2.5 million Jews arrived there; a million since the Jewish State was founded in 1948. What role does the Jewish Agency play today? Is it an anachronism? Is it needed, and if it is, for what purpose?

Moshe Rivlin, director general of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, who was in New York recently as a guest of the United Jewish Appeal, pondered these questions and said that the Agency has two main objectives: “One, organizing aliya and its absorption, and, two, recruiting the Jewish people and its resources to fulfill the aliya and absorption. These goals can be realized only through an international body like the Jewish Agency. So far as I am concerned, if the Jewish Agency had not existed there would have been a need to create it as soon as the State of Israel was born.”

Rivlin leaned back in his chair in his office at 515 Park Avenue, fixed his gaze on the interviewer and said softly that many of the Jews who immigrated to Israel during the past 25 years came from countries that have no diplomatic ties with Israel. “It is necessary that this kind of operation be handled by an international Jewish body because Israel cannot handle the immigration of Jewish refugees from hostile countries.”

ROLE OF AMERICAN JEWRY UNDERSCORED

The 48-year-old seventh generation sabra interspersed in his discussion about the Jewish Agency words such as “loyalty,” “understanding,” and “devotion.” He also underscored that the Agency’s two objectives were realizable thanks to the unstinting efforts of American Jews who provide financial and emotional support to the immigration and absorption effort. But this support, he noted, is a complex and multi-leveled phenomenon.

“What does it mean? It means that Jews consider it their duty to contribute and assist Israel, and not only in time of war. It is an encouraging fact that contributions continue to flood in regardless of the situation,” Rivlin said. He observed that the tremendous outpouring of support for Israel from American Jewry since the Six-Day War has continued unabated. “This is tremendously encouraging,” he said. In fact, Rivlin added, this year’s UJA fund-raising drive is already ahead of the March 1972 figure and even more than the contributions that poured in after the Six-Day War.

The Jewish Agency leader grinned broadly as he noted that “all over the United States you can see young people participating in UJA activities, even in small towns. These youngsters discovered their people and themselves and view this activity as a source of Jewish loyalty.”

In 1970 the Jewish Agency underwent a major reorganization, whereby communal leaders in America and abroad assumed a more active and direct role in the workings of the Jewish Agency. The responsibility for decision-making, the planning of projects and the development of future policies is now shared by a broader spectrum of Jewish leadership. Last month 300 delegates (130 from the U.S.) participated in the annual conference of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, in all facets of budgetary and project planning.

REPRESENTATIVE OF YOUNGER GENERATION

Looking back with satisfaction on the last 25 years, Rivlin noted that as many as 500 agricultural settlements has been founded, During these years more than 100,000 youngsters studied in youth aliya programs and some 30 development towns were established–all with the help of the of Jewish Agency, Rivlin noted. In addition, scores of projects in education, health and welfare were implemented. Future plans, he said, include the aliya of 70,000 Jews this year (as compared to 56,000 in 1972) and many new projects in education, especially dealing with “youth in distress.” At the same time the Agency is planning to strengthen the villages and settlements that already exist.

Rivlin, extremely interested in, excited by and intensely involved with youth aliya, has been described as a representative of the younger generation of Israeli leaders. Born in Jerusalem, Rivlin has been active on behalf of his country for many years. He joined the Hagana as a volunteer at the age of 15. During the War of Independence, he served as a Major in Zahal, the Israeli army. While in the Hagana he was also active in youth work and for two years, from 1944-1946 he headed the Council of Youth Movement in Jerusalem.

In 1952 he was appointed Israel’s Consul General in New York and served in that capacity until 1958. His years in the U.S. and his first-hand experience with Jewish life in the diaspora have proved beneficial for his work in the Jewish Agency, which he joined upon his return to Israel in 1958. For two years he served as director of the Agency’s Information Department and in 1960 he became, in addition, secretary general. Since 1966 he has also served as head of both the Administration and Public Relations Departments.

“I am returning to Israel encouraged and satisfied,” Rivlin said. “Time and again I am surprised to discover among the Jews of the U.S. new signs of devotion and loyalty and endless good will to act and help Israel.”