Will spend billions of (yet to be raised) donor dollars to save Israel’s Jews from tapas, supermodels, and cell phone addiction.
by Asher V. Rausch
New York: In a bold departure from its solipsistic anxiety about institutional preservation despite numerous signs of market irrelevance, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) has announced a major initiative to fix what is broken about the Jewish identity of the average Israeli.
The plan puts into motion a vast operation designed to rescue the rapidly deteriorating sense of yiddishkeit in Israel’s Jewish citizens. A pilot program has launched in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv and will soon expand to the rest of the country, except for Jerusalem. “Even we don’t want to go there.” said one JFNA staffer who will remain unnamed despite repeated attempts to get an attributed quote in this article.
Although the modern state of Israel was founded largely by Jews with a strong sense of authentic Jewishness forged by the crucible of hard diaspora living, the past few generations of Israelis have gone soft on Judaism, according to sources. “Most of them couldn’t tell a knish from a knaidlach” said Bob “Rafi” Semitizer, who will be appointed cultural liaison to what he says sometimes comes off like the “holier-than-thou land.” He opined, “Israel might be the birthplace of the Jewish people and all, but the galut is where we got our groove.”
The program also includes a “reverse Birthright” (called נולד הפוך) that will offer young Israelis a free trip to dynamic Jewish cultural centers in the States like the Stage Deli and the Catskills. The goal is to show them what they have been missing while living in a sun-drenched nation on the Mediterranean with a thriving economy while their ethnic brethren in the U.S. have carefully preserved an ancient heritage completely intact for generations to come. “It was the first time I ever saw a whole meal prepared only with brown food.” said Boaz, a Haifa native who dined with the Goldbergs in Poughkeepsie. “I didn’t realize there were so many shades of brown.”
Follow up programs will bring modern Jewish life to culture-starved Tel-Avivis in the form of holiday-themed puppet shows and young adult mixers. Program organizers will use proven “best-of-breed” American engagement tools, like those cited, to entice even hardnosed Israelis to Jewify.
“It’s our chance to use our enormous brand recognition and deep influence in Israel to reshape how Jews there feel about being Jewish,” according to a JFNA executive involved in the project. “Believe me, they’ll thank us later. Probably.”
Reaction from Israel has been meh.
Program organizers are not deterred by the huge sums that will need to be raised and spent to save the Israelis from losing their religion. Or the fact there is no evidence of a need or desire on the part of the beneficiaries. According to leading fundraisers in the Jewish community, this is a good “ask” for Federation major donors since it combines elements of continuity, Israel, and destination travel.
“It isn’t so much that we want them to be exactly like us, we just want to help them be better at being Jewish.” said one trip leader. “It’s our way of saying to the people of Israel: ‘We love you guys, but you’re doing it wrong.’”