Special to the JTA the Israel Connection

“By emphasizing Israel’s needs and Israel’s well-being, as we have ever since the State was born, and almost totally ignoring what an extended Israel experience or even aliya can do to meet the needs of American Jews, we have done ourselves a grave disservice,” according to Mordechai Bar-On, head of the World Zionist Organization’s youth and hechalutz department.

Meeting with WZO department heads in New York as a first step in his nine-month mission to the United States, Bar-On explained that the abandonment of the classical rationale for an Israel experience has led to a “pragmatic approach, which weighs economic and physical aspects of these programs against what is perceived as Israel’s need but leaves out of the equation the spiritual gains accruing to the participant.”

According to Bar-On, Israeli emissaries have an important role to play on the American scene, but they cannot stimulate aliya from the United States. His own mission is to double the number of American Jews–4000 last year–who go on half-year (or longer) programs to Israel: “Twenty percent of these visitors become olim,” he said, “and those who return to the States return feeling more Jewish.”

The Israeli “who comes and sets up an aliya office in an American city is viewed as a stranger by the Jewish community,” says Bar-On. Therefore, the local and national organizations themselves must initiate Israel-experience and aliya information programs. Eight major national organizations, including all of the synagogue groups and the Jewish Welfare Board, which runs all Jewish community centers in the country, are becoming involved in the promotion of these personal-contact programs.

Bar-On, a former chief education officer of the Israel Army, says he doesn’t hope to change the mood of American Jewry in just nine months. “But I’ll try to help those organizations that are willing to make the effort.”

ADVOCATES COMMUNITY SHALIACH

In addition to the six localities he visited on a previous trip, Bar-On intends to travel to 30 centers during his new assignment, visiting one Jewish organization and facility after another. Support of the Jewish federations which collect funds and run various Jewish services, is essential to the success of his mission, he feels. “I will need their support, their cooperation and their blessing,” says Bar-On, adding: “We must transform their previous passivity–their benign neglect–into at least benign support.”

Bar-On sees Israeli emissaries as important resources for education, information and inspiration, and advocates sending a “community shaliach” to every Jewish community of reasonable size. “There must be an Israeli presence among Jews, emissaries who are respected and who are properly utilized–which will be possible only if the American Jewish community itself undertakes the promotion of personal contact programs.” Ideally, they should be chosen by tender and remain for two or three years, their salaries ###d partly by the community.”

Bar-On is meeting with Zionist and major communal organization leaders for full discussion of his mission.

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