Debate over aliyah erupts at Jewish Agency meeting


NEW YORK (JTA) — Intense debate erupted at a Jewish Agency meeting over a group of Russian Jews who want to immigrate to Israel.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the chairman of the agency’s Aliya and Rescue Committee, said it was shameful that a $300 million organization had failed to bring 900 would-be immigrants from Russia to Israel, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“If this body is not committed to having aliya as the sin que non of what the Jewish Agency does, then what does it do?” Eckstein said.

According to the Post, Misha Galperin, the agency’s CEO and president, fired back that strenghtening Jewish identity is necessary to promote immigration to Israel and is also part of the agency’s mission.

The tense exchange occurred Nov. 15 at a meeting of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors in Buenos Aires.

Eckstein is president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which annually gives the Jewish Agency $10 million. He has offered to donate $1 million from his organization to help bring the group of Russian Jews to Israel. It will take $2 million in total to fund the immigration.

John Ruskay, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, said that if Eckstein could find another half-million, then he and the Jewish Federations of North America could get the last half-million to match, the Post reported.

Historically, the Jewish Agency focused on bringing Jewish immigrants to Israel. In the past two years, however, the mission has expanded to focus on strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora through education.

“In order for people to make aliya you have to have Jews and strengthen their identity but this is all over and above part of our central mission, which is aliya,” Galperin said, in response to Eckstein.

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