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Young Jewish Leaders Attempt to Bridge Israel-diaspora Divide

A group of 34 young Jewish community activists have completed the first-ever Young Jewish Leadership Diplomatic Seminar sponsored by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, a new initiative aimed at helping bridge the Israel-Diaspora divide.

“The purpose of this program was to strengthen links between the communities of these young people and the state of Israel,” said Arthur Koll, director of the ministry’s World Jewish Projects Department, adding that he hoped the participants would return home as “informal diplomats” on behalf of the state of Israel.

Participants, aged 20-30 from 17 countries — half from North America — spent an intensive four weeks studying about Israel’s history, politics, regional relations and economy.

Rebecca Neuwirth, 26, of New York said the program succeeded in addressing the changing nature of the Israel-Diaspora relationship.

“They isolated the fact that relations between Israel and Diaspora Jews have been distanced over the past few years, and the importance of reconnecting those bonds,” said Neuwirth, who works as special assistant to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

Although the program was under the auspices of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, it did not shy away from controversial issues. It included a critical lecture on Israel’s human rights record, a discussion with Israel-based foreign correspondents and much discussion about simmering pluralism issues.

“This was by no means a program that was meant to sugarcoat Israel for us,” said Neuwirth. “But it was also trying to show us the issues that Israel faces in a context that was realistic.”

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