Thousands of Jews brainstorm online to build the future

Thousands of Jews brainstorm online to build the future

Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, on left, and the Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky join the online jam session in Jerusalem. (Credit: Sasson Tiram)
Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, on left, and the Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky join the online jam session in Jerusalem. (Credit: Sasson Tiram)

For 96 hours, 2,135 people from 70 countries created 2,280 online posts during an unprecedented “jam session” last week aimed at securing a thriving Jewish future.

The brainstorming marathon was organized by the Israeli government and the World Jewry Joint Initiative, in an effort to get worldwide input in planning how best to invest in bolstering Jewish identity.

The paradigm for funding Jewish initiatives has changed in recent years, with the Israeli government now prepared to increase its financial commitment to strengthening world Jewry to $100 million a year, while seeking matching funds from diaspora Jewish agencies and philanthropists.

The online jam session — which ran Feb. 16 to 19 from Jerusalem — was originally scheduled to run for three days, but was extended to four days to accommodate the volume of participants.

In the next few weeks, a variety of stakeholders and Jewish communal professionals will process the scores of ideas and comments generated by the sessions, and determine courses of action to employ to secure Jewish continuity, according to Avi Rubel, who is working on the fundraising side of the project for the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The Jewish Agency is partnering with the Israeli government in its effort to develop solutions to the challenges facing world Jewry.

“The Jewish Agency is acting as the convener of this initiative, and is helping to raise matching funds,” Rubel said, speaking from Jerusalem.

“We’ve been engaged in this process for about a year,” he continued. “The idea was to involve as many people and constituents and stakeholders as possible. Now, we’re in the middle of processing that information and trying to understand it. We’re trying to determine what are the directions that really make sense and that will make the most impact.

“I think we’ve had a lot of really great input and people have been extraordinarily interested in participating, which is a great sign,” he added.

The timing is right for stakeholders to ramp up their investment in programs and initiatives to strengthen Jewish identity, according to Rubel.

“The Pew research says a lot of it,” he said. “The Pew survey confirmed a lot of the feelings that people had.”

The high intermarriage rate reported by Pew, as well as other demographic markers, are indicative of a weakening of Jewish identity and a distancing of young Jews from Israel, he said.

“We already have a lot of great programs,” Rubel said, “but the [Israeli] government is stepping up in an unprecedented way. It’s time to invest in a bright Jewish future.”

The ideas generated during the conversational marathon will now be processed by a team of Jewish professionals and other constituents, he said.

“There is going to be a draft paper coming out in the next few weeks that will be presented to the government, and available to the public, that will indicate the initial steps, the initial direction we want to take,” Rubel said. “The draft paper will be collaborative and involve as many passionate people as possible.”

While the idea of the Israeli government allocating funds to ensure Jewish identity in diaspora Jews is not new — it already helps to fund programs like Birthright Israel and Masa Israel —it is now ready to take its funding commitment to a new level, said Jeff Finkelstein, CEO and executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

“Twenty years ago, it was about the rich American Jews helping Israel,” said Finkelstein. “Today, it’s about working together for the future of the Jewish people.”

Finkelstein joined a group of about 10 local young community leaders here on Monday, Feb. 17, as they participated in the online jam as a group at the Federation.

The Pittsburgh group focused its efforts on following up on immersive experiences for such programs as Birthright and Masa in order to capitalize on the impact of those types of programs, said Sue Linzer, senior manager of overseas operations at the Pittsburgh Federation, who helped organize the meeting.

After reading and discussing comments that people from all over the world had posted on this topic, Linzer blogged on the site on behalf of the group, she said.

“It was worthwhile,” she said. “Just to raise awareness of the initiative, if nothing else. It really is a historical opportunity to engage in program areas to connect the Jewish world, and to participate in this size forum and feel like I had a voice.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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