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Behind the Headl Nes New Horizons in Jewish Education

December 19, 1979
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An “Open University” for Jewish Studies is one of the novel ideas under active consideration by the Joint Program for Jewish Education in the Diaspora (JP). Jews in the diaspora of all ages and every walk of life would be able to take courses, by cassette and correspondence, in a wide-range of Judaica and related subjects under the guidance and tutelage of some of Israel’s top academicians.

Another idea, on which a feasibility study has begun, calls for three summer-long courses at Israeli universities for diaspora teachers and educators. The summer programs would be “bridged” during the academic year by correspondence courses. Upon successful completion, the teachers would automatically be entitled to a significant raise in their salaries.

An idea, still on the drawing-board, is a “Sesame Street” type television series on Jewish life, to be filmed mainly in Israel for screening by TV stations and privately around the world.


The ideas are novel, well-nigh revolutionary. The funding effort that makes it possible even to consider them is indeed nothing short of revolutionary. The JP involves the allocation jointly by the Israel government and world Jewry of $10 million annually for at least the next four years in the boldest-ever attack on ignorance and apathy in the crucial area of Jewish education in the diaspora.

It is the first time that the Israel government has committed itself in a really serious way to shouldering educational responsibilities abroad. In the words of JP’s official prospectus, “Five million dollars of the fund is to be spent in Israel for diaspora Jewish education, and $5 million is to be added annually to the Pincus Fund, initiated by the late Louis Pincus, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executives.

“This initial sum is intended as seed money No price tag can be placed on the value of the educational resources that the fund will promote, ” the prospectus said.

The Pincus Fund, established after Pincus’ death, provides money for educational projects abroad. Since its inception in 1976, it has allocated some $1.5 million out of its interest earnings — for schools, schools, seminars, yeshivas and other Institutions in the diaspora. The JP will mean a very significant increase in the money available to the Pincus Fund, which is run jointly by the government, the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee and the WZO.

The unique nature of the JP in which the government and the Jewish Agency alone are involved, is that all of its funds must be spent in Israel. To a large extent, it is the brainchild of the present Jewish Agency chairman Leon Dulzin In April, 1978, Dulzin initiated a session of the government-Agency coordinating body which took the decision in principle to establish the JP and to set aside sums wich for both groups were considered large.


Haim Zohar, secretary of the WZO Executive and director of the Pincus Fund; has marshalled the initial planning and execution stages of JP. A one-time teacher himself, Zohar mode his mark in the diaspora when he served as Israel’s Consul for Jewish Affairs in New York in the ’60s. Since 1971, he has been with the WZO, devoting most of his time to Jewish education, most recently with the focus on Latin America.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Zohar outlined specialists from Israel and abroad met in Jerusalem under Prof. Seymour Fox, head of the Hebrew University’s School of Education, and gave tentative approval to II projects submitted by various educational institutions. Seven of the projects were submitted by WZO departments. “The departments are not barred,” Zohar noted wryly. But he stressed that each idea was scrupulously examined and many were “thrown out.”

Among the overseas experts on the panel were Alvin Schiff, executive vice president of the New York Board of Jewish Education; Simon Frost, acting executive vice president of the American Association for Jewish Education; Herbert Millman, executive vice president emeritus of the Jewish Welfare Board; Nahum Rabinowitz, head of Jews College, London; Haim Barilco, director of the Jewish Education Council in Argentina; Rabbi David Massus, a leading French Jewish educator; and Leon Kronitz, a Canadian Jewish leader.

A board presently overseeing JP includes Education Minister Zevulun Hammer; Morton Mandel, president of the Council of Jewish Federations in the U.S.; Michel Topiol, the French Jewish Philanthropist; Dulzin and three WZO department heads.

The government and Jewish Agency will each provide a designate to be directly responsible for the running of JP and eventually a full-time director and staff will be appointed. But Zohar, as the moving spirit, will certainly retain a Key role in making this Jewish educational vision come true.

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