Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) was in Atlanta last week to update an enthusiastic crowd at Federation on the current priorities of the Jewish Agency. In this time of resurgent antisemitism, Bougie shared what keeps him up at night. It’s the relentless attempt to delegitimize Israel on American college campuses. It’s the rise of white nationalism in the United States. It’s the popularity of Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain. It’s the instability of life for Jews in Latin America. It’s the attacks on synagogues and individuals in the U.S. and Europe.
But underlying all of this, Herzog worries that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are growing apart, and that without more exposure to each other, more opportunities to learn from each other, the Jewish people could experience a devastating rift. Herzog’s priority, as the leader of the agency that helped resettle 35,000 Jews in Israel last year, is to safeguard Israel as a home for world Jewry, and also to build bridges. He actually thinks Atlanta is doing a remarkably good job in both.
In meetings with local rabbis, and the organizations that work with our Shinshinim, Herzog lauded Atlanta’s partnership with Yokneam and Megiddo calling it “one of the most successful Federation partnerships in Israel.” He singled out the Shinshinim program — a program created by the Jewish Agency for Israel — for the way it brings the positive message of modern Israel around the world.
As the forward face of the Jewish People, and an agency not controlled by the government of Israel, JAFI, plays a unique role telling Israel’s story. The agency is represented by three pillars: Global Aliyah, the Impact of the Jewish People, and Connecting Jews Worldwide.
The secret sauce of the Jewish people, he muses, is our ability to rally for each other. “Even Winston Churchill was impressed by the Jewish idea of the collective, the idea he believed helped keep the Jewish people together through the ages,” Herzog said.