The Jewish National Fund is one of the finest organisations in the Jewish world, and its illustrious history is a source of pride. The modern nation State owes its very existence to the historic fundraising and land purchase arrangements. Although everything in Israel has an element of politicisation, the JNF is separate from the Government, and still able to assert its independence.
The JNF reinvests significantly into global Jewry. To cite one example, Australia is fortunate to be one of three world locations where the JNF funds an education shaliach to support strengthening the connections between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
The current shaliach is Yigal Nisellm who made his first visit to Perth this week. On Sunday evening the JNF hosted a presentation entitled “Should we be Supporting Israel or our Local Jewish Community?”
Although the address was billed as ‘one of the most talked about dilemma’s in the community’ (and I believe it is), perhaps apathy is another dilemma we need to add to the list, as only half a dozen people made an effort to support this important presentation.
Nonetheless, Yigal provided a considered and insightful presentation; well researched and very balanced. He also needs to be commended for not shying away from an important and potentially controversial topic. Through his research, Yigal ascertained that Australian Jewry has a philanthropic ledger of approximately $100m per annum, of which one half is directed to a multitude of organisations in Israel, and the balance is used for educational, social and religious infrastructure. The approximate contribution of Perth is $5 million.
I have long been personally torn by the dilemma that Yigal raised. On the one hand I firmly support the principle that a Diaspora Jewish community should not develop itself without concurrently developing Israel. The Australian Jewish community’s connection to the Arava, facilitated through the JNF is an inspiring example.
On the other hand, there are domestic issues of sustainability that also command our loyalty and attention.
Yigal inevitably concluded that there will always be a demand for funds, and that funding both local and Israel causes are critically important for Jewish continuity.
The more I see of Israel and the more I see of how we are trending locally, the more convinced I am that a role reversal is necessary. I believe the ultimate solution lies in having Australian donor funds to Israel directed away from infrastructure and capital projects, and into educational programs. In particular, Australian Jewry has the ability to fund its own institution in Israel that can source, train and dispatch Jewish educators and shlichim to our schools and Zionist organisations. The uniqueness of such an approach would be through the ability to train people specifically for our community, with recognised Australian teaching qualifications, and the cross-cultural communications skills to best adapt to the Australian community requirements.
We should always give selflessly to Israel, but also move towards models that further reinvest back into the growth and evolvement of Australian Jewry, primarily by bringing more of Israel into the heart of our community.
For the forthcoming blog posts I hope to place on JewglePerth, I will reproduce some of the content I presented at Limmud 2015 that relates to the sustainability of Perth Jewry and further explores this model.