Existing Interrelationships in the World Jewish Polity
Reinventing World Jewry:
How to Design the World Jewish Polity
Daniel J. Elazar
Enhancing Interorganizational Collaboration
How do the instrumentalities of the edah work out long-term means for cooperating to provide services to the Jewish world? Characteristic of the contemporary situation is that, where outside assistance or intervention is involved, it does not come simply from one body but almost invariably from several.
For example, take Iran before the Khomeini revolution. Even before the turn of the century, the Alliance Israelite Universelle established schools there to provide basic education for Iranian Jewry. Its entry into the country was facilitated through negotiations by the shtadlanic institutions with the then rulers of Iran and only after the application of considerable pressure by the Western powers, triggered by the shtadlanim. The Alliance was dominant until World War II, when the Iranian Jews perceived that French influence was on the decline in the world and American influence on the rise. At that point two American-sponsored institutions, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Otzar Ha-Torah (an organization established to build an maintain religiously oriented schools for Jews in the Middle East), came into Iran to undertake social and educational activities. The two have been there ever since, even now after Khomeini.
The Jewish Agency also arrived in Iran during the war, and , with the establishment of the State of Israel, an Israeli presence was also established. The Israelis' first efforts were directed toward encouraging the mass immigration of Iranian Jewry to Israel. By the mid-1950s, when it became apparent that tens of thousands of Jews would stay in Iran, the Israelis changed their orientation to include efforts to influence the Jewish community remaining in the direction of Zionism, aliya, and financial support of the Jewish state.
In pre-Khomeini Iran the Israel embassy was a major influence in the Jewish community. The Jewish Agency conducted fundraising and aliya campaigns and, whenever the Iranian government permitted it, sent shlihim to work with Jewish youth. The Israeli chief rabbinate served as the court of last resort for the halakhic problems of Iranian Jewry, and the young rabbis in the community, insofar as there were any, were trained in Israel. Support for internal social and educational needs was provided by the JDC and, for education, by the Otzar HaTorah and the Alliance, the JDC working closely with both. The professional leadership of the JDC originally consisted of American and British Jews. Subsequently, Israelis joined the staff. The Alliance relied more heavily on local people, with an occasional French Jew. Otzar HaTorah relied on local people, with Israelis filling the top professional positions. The Jewish schools run directly by the Iranian Jewish community with the support of the JDC, used Israeli personnel whenever the government permitted them do so, and they were then employed by the local schools.
The intermixture reflected the emerging worldwide Jewish civil service whose main people are drawn from several countries. Many have made career commitments to that civil service and not to any particular community in which they may be serving. (The first Israeli to serve with the JDC in Iran received his training and first fieldwork experience in Jewish community centers in the united States, went on to join the JDC staff in Geneva, developing cultural programming for European Jewry, returned to Israel to work with local community centers and Project Renewal, and then went to the United States as a community shaliah.)
The interlocking framework was developing even as tensions between the JDC and the Agency continued on the old basis. The JDC was committed to strengthening Jewish life in Iran; the Agency wanted to encourage the Iranian Jews to leave. Whatever the antagonisms between them, they did develop patterns of cooperation to advance the common goal of strengthening the Jewish life of Iranian Jewry to the point where neither could operate without the other.
Argentina is another example of the intervention of outside bodies. Once a community of more than 300,000 Jews, at one time it was at least self-sufficient, if not more. However, the combination of the breakdown of civil society in Argentina in the 1960s and the failures of the indigenous Jewish leadership to adjust to new world conditions forced the community into a struggle for its viability. In that struggle, it turned to the two great centers for support. It was encouraged to do so by the leaders of both centers, who understood that the sixth or seventh largest countrywide concentration of Jews was an asset that could not be abandoned to its own fate.
From the first days of Israel's independence, the Israeli role was actively welcomed and encouraged in Argentina. The original response of the Argentinean non-Jews was to recognize Israel as the madre patria (the mother fatherland) of Argentinean Jewry parallel to the mother fatherlands of Argentineans of Spanish, German, Italian, and other extractions. For Jews, this was a strong basis for an identity that was primarily secular, in a community whose institutions were so dominated by Zionists that the only parties that contested for control of them were the political parties supported by their Israeli counterparts. As time went on, the Israeli ambassador became an increasingly important figure in the decision making of Argentinean Jewry, and Israeli assistance in the form of shlihim, teachers, and rabbis became greater. In the late 1960s, as some communal institutions began to disintegrate, Argentinean dependence on Israel grew even more, almost as if Israel was called upon to replace a local lack of will and also finance certain communal functions.
Argentinean Jewry was less open in its welcome of American Jewish support, principally because of the chronic Latin American hostility to the big brother from the North. Nevertheless, shortly after World War II, the American Jewish Committee opened an office in Buenos Aires to help the Argentinean Jews deal with problems of anti-Semitism and to link them more closely with the rest of the Jewish world. Subsequently, the American Conservative movement sent a rabbi to Argentina who, after considerable struggle, managed to build a substantial network of congregations, affiliated with the United Synagogue, with ancillary activities including a theological seminary, a Ramah camp, and a variety of educational programs. Through them he actually transformed the religious life of Argentine Jewry. More recently the National Jewish Welfare Board (now the Jewish Community Centers Association) has developed a technical assistance program for the Jewish sports clubs.
The principal point of sharing between Israeli and American Jewry is to be found in the special assistance programs of the Jewish Agency, which were launched with the endorsement of the American representative. Although Israeli and American activities have been less closely related in Argentina than they were in Iran because of the differences between the communities, the fact that both major centers have seen fit to devote considerable effort to Argentina is testimony in and of itself.
In France, a much larger and stronger Jewish community, where local forces play a much more important role and the respective interests of the two outside centers can be better articulated on the ground, the cooperation between the JDC and the Agency is less visible. The JDC's work in stimulating the creation of the Fonds Social Juif Unifie after World War II had a direct payoff not only in improving the community's internal structure but even in the improvement of fundraising for Israel. There the work of the JDC was carried out by a group of American Jewish social workers who spent their careers in Europe rebuilding European Jewish life, many of whom have since retired to Israel.
Europe remains the most important arena for Israeli and American Jewish efforts. The efforts of each often have been in different directions, although the gap has narrowed considerably in recent years. The cross-purposes at which the principal representatives of the two major communities worked in the interwar generation were to leave their scars well into the next generation, nor did the Holocaust entirely put an end to them. In the aftermath of World War II, the Agency and the JDC again found themselves working in the same field and at cross-purposes. By then, the ideological commitment of the JDC to discourage Jews from leaving their European lands of origin had disappeared. The JDC leadership, however, was strongly committed to the notion that the Jews who did want to resettle in Europe should be assisted and those who did not wish to settle in Israel were entitled to seek other homes with the support of world Jewry. The Jewish Agency, on the other hand, was committed to convincing the survivors to wait demonstratively in the displaced-persons camps until they could leave Europe for Israel and to discourage those who chose not to.
Matters were further complicated by the American-sponsored immigrant aid societies (the HIAS of today), whose avowed task was to assist Jewish displaced persons wanting to immigrate to the United States. Particularly between 1945 and 1947, when no Jewish state was immediately in the offing and the doors to Palestine were officially closed, the American organizations felt a moral responsibility to assist Jews to enter the United States. At the same time, the representatives of the Jewish Agency wanted all the displaced persons to stand fast in the camps so as to intensify the problem and stimulate world support for Jewish statehood. Even so, the common interest of the parties in rescuing Jews and in helping them rebuild their lives brought them together in cooperative activity in the camps, albeit their antagonistic goals.
The issue was resolved by the establishment of the state and the immigration of most of the displaced persons to Israel. In the end, the JDC assisted in that immigration and established its own institutions in Israel to assist those unable to become self-supporting there. It also continued to assist the survivors who remained in Europe to rebuild Jewish life there. After awhile, the Israelis were reconciled to the realities of the renewal of a European diaspora, though on a limited basis, and they, too, began to work among European Jewry to tie them closely to Israel in commitment, if not through aliya.
The later conflict over the question of the noshrim (Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union who chose not to go to Israel) is reminiscent of that earlier struggle. The Israeli position, fully supported by the Zionist movement, was that Jews who were permitted to leave the USSR because they requested to immigrate to Israel as part of the reunification of families scheme (the formal reason why the Soviets let them go) should be required to complete the journey. At the very least, if they drop out they should not be eligible for assistance from other Jewish sources. The diaspora position, most prominent among the American Jewish leadership, was that the issue is one of rescuing Jews, which is a Jewish responsibility under any circumstances, and the destination of any Jews so rescued should be their personal choice.
A rather unpleasant standoff followed until American Jewry was successful in securing a larger quota for Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate to the United States, and the Soviets, under American pressure obliged, letting the Jews leave. Soon the costs and burdens of absorbing this very difficult population into the U.S. and the American Jewish community became apparent to the American Jewish leadership. Then they were happy to stop encouraging Soviet Jews to come to the United States, and put their full support behind the aliya movement.
What did occur as a result of the large immigration of Soviet Jews to the United States was that it forced the American Jewish community, then involved in a struggle between the local federations and the Council of Jewish Federations over the issue of developing certain countrywide ways and means to cope with what had become for many purposes a single North American Jewish community, to take steps in that direction because of the uneven distribution of the Soviet Jewish immigrants around the country and the necessity to raise massive funds to support them. The CJF developed a formula for application countrywide, whereby federations either absorbed more immigrants or paid their "fair share" into a common CJF-managed fund for distribution to those communities that did, a breakthrough in strengthening the Jewish countrywide institutions which had been talked about in principle in other spheres but which CJF the leadership had been unable to effectuate until this emergency situation developed. This became one of the most prominent examples of how worldwide Jewish trends could even affect the internal life and structuring of the world's largest diaspora community.
The opening of the gates of the Soviet Union and then its breakup into different independent republics, effectively reduced the problem as more and more ex-Soviet Jews went to Israel. Limits were imposed by the U.S. government with American Jewish help on the number of Jews from the ex-Soviet Union to be admitted to the United States.
In place of the emigration controversies, a new set of problems developed. With the opening of the ex-Soviet republics to Jewish activity, virtually all of the Jewish organizations of the world Jewish polity and many of those of the United States and other countrywide diaspora communities rushed in with the manifest purpose of helping the Jews of those republics to restore Jewish life and the latent one of fostering and advancing their particular view of what Jewish life should be and their institutional interests. What followed was something resembling a mad rush for place and position in what has been described as "a wild West" situation. On some levels even antagonistic cooperation has been nonexistent and groups have competed with one another for segments of Soviet Jewry. Nevertheless, at the level of the major worldwide Jewish organizations -- JAFI, the State of Israel's Lishkat Hakesher, the JDC -- the situation forced a degree of cooperative activity despite all. The ultra-Orthodox organizations, especially Chabad, which was particularly active, stayed out of these cooperative arrangements except where they could get financial support for their efforts. At the same time, the local Jews, while accepting outside assistance, became increasingly resentful of what they saw as an imperialistic attitude on the part of world Jewry that essentially rejected the locals' view that they could handle their own affairs and only needed outside assistance to fund and staff them.
The latest front where American and Israeli efforts to serve the rest of the diaspora are now coming to the fore is in the provision of rabbis and teachers for those communities unable to train their own. The American Jewish community began by taking a few students from Latin America, Europe, and even India into its seminaries in the immediate postwar period. Today American rabbis are themselves going out to serve communities overseas. Mention has been made of Argentina. The chief rabbi of Sweden is a Philadelphian who is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Japan invariably has an American rabbi.
Israel's importance here (which is of ancient vintage) is also growing, in both ways. Students come from various parts of the world to study in Israeli yeshivot and then go back to serve in their communities. Israelis who train for the rabbinate in Israel go out to serve communities in the diaspora from East Asia to Chile. Here Israel has even developed mechanisms for cooperative activity with diaspora communities other than the United States. So, for example, the Indian Jewish community, which has no rabbi, periodically sends young men to study in Israel to learn to be shohetim and mohelim. For years, the Jewish Agency shaliah in Bombay was from the Torah Education Department. He served as a conduit for rabbinical matters, passing on requests for such things as divorces or conversion of olim to the rabbinate in Israel, providing them with the pertinent information as needed, and then executing their decisions. For conversion of olim to Israel, a complex procedure was developed. After the local shaliah undertook to train prospective converts, he provided them with certificates which they could bring with them to Israel. They were then sent via Turkey where the chief rabbi would convert them before their arrival in Israel, thus avoiding any problem with the local rabbinate of the kind that made integration of Indian Jews particularly difficult in the 1950s.
Thus, willy-nilly, a partnership between Israeli and world Jewry has been forged to serve Jews living outside the two centers. Each center has created its own instruments for the tasks at hand. This partnership, initially antagonistic, has become less so, as the issues that once divided them have diminished. To date, this kind of coordination has developed on an ad hoc basis. On one hand, this means that what has developed is real and in response to real needs and is not simply "window dressing" to serve some external demands. On the other, it involves real "start up" and "sorting out" costs anew each time.
Shaping a New World Leadership
The first thing achieved by the reorganization of the Jewish Agency was the emergence of a more broadly-based world Jewish leadership tied into the countrywide and local communities of the diaspora. The world Zionist movement had developed a worldwide leadership much earlier, a leadership that continued to exist after the establishment of the state, but much diminished in power and influence. The Zionist leadership never attained the comprehensive scope it sought. Now, in the reconstituted Jewish Agency, the merging of Zionist and community leaders, the men and women who speak for the diaspora communities, particularly those of the United States, offered an opportunity for the emergence of a truly comprehensive Jewish leadership. The Jewish Agency provided an arena within which such a leadership could work, and the people who entered that arena, on the whole with strong and impressive credentials, were ready to take advantage of the opportunity. If anything, the first decade was a period of frustration for many as the opportunities to function developed more slowly than they have liked. Nevertheless, during a decade of exposure to one another, that leadership began to take shape.
To understand the wider meaning of this, we must go back to the formal reconstitution, to examine:
- The expectations of those involved in it.
- The structures that emerged from it.
The functions entrusted to the reconstituted Jewish Agency, the relationships that developed between the agency and its various parts, the new leadership of the State of Israel, and the diaspora communities.
As is inevitable in human affairs, there were mixed expectations about what the reconstitution was designed to accomplish. Probably the most minimal expectations were those of many in the Israeli government and the WZO leadership who hoped that the change would be cosmetic and not alter established patterns. The community leaders, however, saw the change as an opportunity to raise the level of efficiency in the Agency, to gain greater accountability of the money they were raising for Israel, and to sharpen the Agency's policy focus and functions.
Those who initiated the reconstitution -- mainly insiders in the Jewish Agency -- expected to build a more effective instrumentality for the achievement of the Agency's mission in Israel and for the involvement of the diaspora in that mission.
As the process developed, those who wanted only minimal changes found that their expectations would not be borne out. Those who expected an easy transition to a new era were also disappointed. Pressures from the reconstituted governing bodies led to improved Agency budgetary practices, opened up Agency activities for discussion and consideration, and in a limited way began to influence the choice of officeholders in senior Agency positions. Each step meant a struggle, but with each advance, the Agency acquired greater independence and began to work truly as an arm of the Jewish people.
The division between Zionist and community leaders is greatest in matters of governance. The community leaders feel far more frustrated about the lack of an appropriate role because their experiences abroad have been in exercising real power and not simply in participating in general debate. The top Zionist leadership, however, tends to be concentrated in Israel and to sit on the Executive. Not only are they more accustomed to the general debate -- a Zionist and Israeli tradition -- but they can transcend it by exercising power through day-to-day roles as heads of departments within the Agency or the World Zionist Organization. In sum, on paper the new structure under the reconstitution offered a fair framework for joint activity; but it quickly became a source of endless frustration and puzzlement for many of the most active and committed participants in the Agency's work.
On the other hand, there was the least amount of divergence with regard to the functions of the Jewish Agency. Although there are disagreements as to how those functions should be implemented, it was generally agreed that the Agency's functions were appropriate to it and necessary, even vital, for Israel's development. Thus there has been relatively little struggle over the question of functions, only the questions of how they should be carried out and who should do what in connection with them.
Although at first the reconstitution did not change the functions of the Jewish Agency, it did set in motion a process that has led to changes in implementation and continues to move toward further changes. Parallel to the reconstitution was the decision by the Israeli government to assume responsibility for the absorption of immigrants, leaving the Jewish Agency which had previously dealt with aliya and absorption in their entirety, only with aliya and limited initial absorption functions. Matters have not worked out precisely as intended, but the Agency's role in absorption has been substantially diminished.
Similarly, while the reconstitution was being implemented, the role of the Agency in rural settlement was declining, mostly because the bulk of the job had already been done. Moreover, the Agency could not directly undertake construction of settlements across the Green Line because of presumed American political constraints. Hence this task was formally assigned to the WZO. At the same time, the role of the Agency in urban areas began to grow. During the 1970s it continued to grow, culminating in 1977 in the launching of Project Renewal. The previous policy of the Israeli government, which had prevented the Agency from working directly with municipal governments in common programs, was reversed so that the Agency was given a direct role in urban redevelopment. Thus the Agency acquired a new frontier in the 1970s, one whose possibilities and problems seem unlimited.
Other shifts in Agency functions began to be manifested. The Agency's role in Israeli higher education, once fiscally overwhelming, began to diminish after a struggle between the Agency and the Israeli government as to whether the former would have a say in the expenditure of the funds it provided. The government quashed the Agency's bid for more than token influence, and since then the Agency has implemented a plan to substantially cut back its share of the higher education budget.
There have been shifts in social welfare spending within Israel, with the role of the Jewish Agency slowly being reduced in that sphere. On the other hand the Agency has begun to take on greater responsibility for Jewish education in the diaspora, a matter of shared concern for all Jewish leaders. All these changes are symptomatic of what some diaspora leaders have suggested as a basic shift in the Agency's mission, from rebuilding the Jewish national home in Eretz Israel to forging stronger links between Israel and the diaspora.
Reconstitution has brought in its wake a new set of relationships in the Agency and between the Agency and other forces in the Jewish polity. In the Agency, the first new relationship was between the Zionists and the community representatives. Formally, matters were worked out quickly. Beyond the formal level, the relationship is still uncertain and often uneasy. There is also the relationship between the Agency and the WZO, which remains quite ambiguous and a subject of much concern, though the balance clearly has been tipped toward the Agency.
The relationship between the Agency and the government of Israel, as noted above, is moving toward greater independence for the former. This, too, is an issue in flux, with the government reluctant to encourage such independence but increasingly forced to do so by the diaspora community representatives. Project Renewal was a major factor in making the change real and may prove a decisive one. Through Project Renewal, for example, Israeli local government authorities developed ties not only with the Agency but also with their twinned diaspora communities. It did not take long for local leaders to perceive that such ties, especially with the diaspora communities directly, could be invaluable in helping them in their efforts to gain more for their communities from the powers-that-be in the state. This served to weaken the otherwise hierarchical relationship between state and local government by introducing the edah as a third party.
There is also a changing relationship between the Agency and the diaspora communities. Once viewed strictly as a conduit for philanthropic contributions to help Israel's people and as a vehicle for helping diaspora fundraising efforts by the care and feeding of missions to Israel, the Jewish Agency has begun to be perceived as the diaspora's instrumentality in Israel and, for purposes outside Israel, to be what it always purported to be, a "national institution" belonging to the entire edah, which needs to be treated and developed as such, and, if necessary, reorganized further.
The Problem of Interorganizational Cooperation
What remains is the question of relationships between the Agency and the rest of the world Jewish polity. Most immediately, its relationships with the government of Israel are frequently overpowering in their effect on the Agency's work, the lion's share of which still is within the boundaries of the state. In particular, the Agency's relationship with the Israeli political party system is at issue, since the parties continue to dominate the choice of department heads and other personnel and, through them, the Agency Executive and daily operations.
Conversely, the relationship between the Agency as an adjusting body and the American Jewish community has been based on the latter's insistence on stringent limits to Agency activities in the United States. The policy that the Agency is not to work within the American Jewish community except in limited and supplementary ways has been in effect at least since 1960.
In the late 1950s the Jewish Agency, eager to promote day schools, decided to provide direct subsidies to a Jewish day school in at least one American Jewish community, after the school's request had been turned down by the local Jewish federation, then firmly opposed to day schools as a communal solution to the problem of Jewish education. The leadership of the local federation, which included some of the top leadership in the United Jewish Appeal countrywide, acted quickly and firmly to prevent the Agency from doing so, on the grounds that money collected through the federation for use in Israel was not to be used to bypass federation policies in their own community. The Agency reluctantly was forced to retreat and a countrywide policy was established in the wake of that experience. Since then, the Agency has provided funds for educational programs in Israel serving American Jewry, with the active cooperation of the local communities but has refrained from trying to bypass them and certainly not to counteract local policies.
French Jewry has tried to take a similar stance in recent years, though with less success since the Agency already has a well-established role in France. It is a sign of the times that some of the same people who were directly responsible for limiting the Agency's scope in their diaspora communities were and are prominent members of the Board of Governors.
The relationship between the Agency and other Jewish multicountry functional authorities will have to be clarified. For example, it has been noted that since World War II, the Agency or WZO and the Joint Distribution Committee have been involved in a kind of antagonistic cooperation. In the past, before the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a genuine conflict. Now nothing is inherent in the goals of the Agency or the JDC as presently defined that demands the perpetuation of such tensions. On the contrary, the new concern of the Agency with urban redevelopment in Israel and Jewish education in the diaspora will demand closer cooperation between the two authorities.
To take another example, direct relations between the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress have been confined to a few select issues, such as the rescue of Soviet Jewry. At the same time the WZO has close ties with the WJC. For many years it probably was the WZO that kept the WJC alive. Since the accession of Edgar Bronfman to the presidency of the WJC, there has been a new infusion of energy and money into the organization, and some effort has been made to distance it from its previous backer. Unlike the JDC, which maintains a low profile in its activities, the WJC lives primarily off its public visibility. Hence, its announcements often lead to confrontation with the WZO-Jewish Agency complex. Here, too, a new relationship needs to be developed.
The crucial issues that must be addressed here are issues of access, representation, and feedback. With other edah-wide organizations, the active participants have tended to become isolated -- a closed circle in which people increasingly talk to people in their arena only and have less and less to communicate to the other arenas where the real action may be found. This situation exacerbates the perennial question raised in almost all the arenas: how representative are those who speak in the name of the Jews?
The Jewish Agency in its new form as a more broadly based representative body, could become the vehicle concerned Jews are seeking to frame the edah. The Agency, however, must first resolve its own questions of access and representation. By building an arena for a new and more broadly based world Jewish leadership and recruiting important people to participate in that arena, the reconstituted Jewish Agency has done much to develop such a leadership. It is, however, the nature of the arena that, as the leadership forms, it, too, becomes increasingly isolated from the other arenas of Jewish activity. The extent of that isolation need not be overdrawn; each leader on the Board of Governors wears many hats and has many connections with other areas of the Jewish world. Still, as time goes by, their experiences remove them from their peers who have not shared those experiences. This has been the fate of other congeries of "world Jewish leaders," who have ultimately come to dance only with one another. It may be an inevitable concomitant, because people have only so much time and energy and cannot work in all arenas at once. It is a problem, though, precisely because of the issues of access, representation, and feedback, which accompany Jewish organizations today.
Questions also have been raised about how the leaders of the world Jewish polity achieve their leadership positions, because elections to them are mostly pro forma ratification of slates presented by closed nominating committees, and only people with sufficient time and money can offer themselves for leadership roles, especially beyond the local arena. This is particularly blatant because real or nominal responsibility for choosing representatives is in the hands of either the World Zionist Organization, which favors a narrow circle of politicians, or the Keren Hayesod and the United Israel Appeal, the two major bodies responsible for fundraising in Israel, who naturally favor big contributors.
In one sense, neither grouping can make a serious claim to being representative. In the diaspora, the lack of bounded polities makes it almost impossible to choose representatives on a popular democratic basis. Those countries that have communal elections have registered such low turnouts that their elections are frequently manipulated by small blocs that can gain disproportionate influence over the electoral process. Thus the "democratic elections" approach cannot offer much improvement. In Israel, the one bounded polity in the system, where a representative leadership could be chosen, the party system is such that those elected are hardly more representative of the community than those elected in the diaspora communities.
On another level, however, it can be argued that the leadership is not entirely unrepresentative. Moreover, if it is understood as a reflection of the keter malkhut, which represents only the civil dimension of the Jewish body politic and not the spiritual, religious, or intellectual dimensions, except by accident, a case can be make that it is not unduly unrepresentative in comparison with other systems of representation.
What is lacking, however, is proper access and feedback. Appropriate channels are only now being developed to provide Jews with access to their representatives on the Agency governing bodies, whether from the Zionist parties or from the communities. People can always talk to one another, and the Jewish world is not so big that any leaders are unreachable, but that is too haphazard a situation for effective access. How does a local community in Israel or the diaspora communicate its interests to the Jewish Agency? In North America, the establishment of committees on the Jewish Agency by the CJF and the larger community federations has introduced new channels of communication that formally are becoming institutionalized but, after a promising start, they have been neglected in many communities and have lost considerable momentum. The restructuring of the board of the UIA in the United States to include representatives from the community federations is another step in that direction. Until recently few local leaders, not to speak of other Jews, followed or were sufficiently aware of the work of the Agency to communicate their concerns. Development of institutionalized channels of access has already begun to change that. A few diaspora communities have established offices in Israel to maintain continuing contact with the Agency and the Israeli government with regard to programs serving their communities. These were an outgrowth of the Project Renewal experience which introduced the concept of community representatives to bridge the gap between the twinned diaspora communities and the various Project Renewal authorities in Israel. They have since been widened in scope, at first against the opposition of many of the Israelis in government and the Jewish Agency who recognized that this would limit their own power to act. The major Jewish communities in North America followed in the footsteps of the British and South African Zionist organizations and opened comprehensive offices in Israel to serve their communities in a wide variety of programs. Wherever needed, they drew upon Israeli resources to serve their people. Today there are some twenty-five community representatives in Israel serving in this capacity.
Parallel to the question of access is that of feedback. How does the work of the Agency and its various instrumentalities and governing bodies get brought to the attention of the other arenas or, for that matter, to parallel bodies in the edah arena? There are few institutionalized channels of feedback, something clearly reflected in the problem of isolation noted above.
There is also the issue of accountability. The Jewish Agency is another example of a trusteeship institution in the history of the edah. Trusteeship is a useful device, but it is effective only if there is some way to keep the trustees accountable. Accountable to whom? It can be suggested that Jewish institutions must be accountable to those Jews involved in Jewish life, who have gone beyond their kinship ties to demonstrate their citizenship in the Jewish body politic. The effort to develop better means of accountability must be high on the contemporary Jewish political agenda.
It is the resolution of these problems of expectation, structure, and relationship that must precede decisions about changing the functions of the instrumentalities of the edah. There is too little public concern over what or how well these bodies do. Most discussions are confined to who does what. A major shift in emphasis, however -- especially in the directions suggested -- could lead to serious disputes unless these other problems are addressed and progress is made toward their resolution.
Assuming that the Jewish people is not seeking to establish a world Jewish parliament, it still requires effective national institutions to do its work as an edah. No other institution has a better claim to playing a preeminent role than the Jewish Agency; to do so, however, it must be ready to confront the difficult questions, draw the appropriate conclusions, and make the needed changes.
The Expansion of the Diaspora Role in Agency Affairs
The issue is considerably more complex when it comes to the participation of each center in the affairs of the other. Israel has been notably reluctant to encourage diaspora involvement in policies affecting it directly, even where diaspora money is involved. Until the mid-1970s diaspora Jews were reluctant to press matters. For example, where Israel has demanded Jewish mobilization in the United States on its behalf, diaspora Jewry has been content to follow the Israeli lead on the grounds that Israel's vital interests are those most immediately affected. Similarly, American Jewry has strongly resisted Israeli attempts to intervene in its communal affairs for many of the same reasons. Though from time to time Israel has shown more interest in doing so, it generally has respected American Jewish wishes and pulled back when asked to do so. In matters affecting world Jewry, because they are the major centers of Jewish life, both feel free to act for the resolution of world Jewish problems or in the defense of world Jewish interests.
During the first generation of statehood, contact between Israel and the diaspora was like contact between two pyramids that touched at their tips. No more than a handful of leaders on each side had regular and meaningful contact with one another. In Israel, the prime minister, a few of his ministerial colleagues, the chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, and a few of his departmental colleagues handled almost all the regular contacts with a handful of diaspora leaders. The latter were drawn from the very top echelons of the fundraising organizations or, in a few instances, from the community relations bodies. After the Six-Day War, the ties began to stretch further down the pyramid. Project Renewal transformed the two pyramids into a single matrix. Not only were the ties between the top leadership intensified, but ties were developed between the second and third echelon leaders and then between ordinary Jewish activists and their Israeli counterparts through Project Renewal committees and volunteer programs. This transformation has not only helped further the integration of the Jewish people into a single entity, but also has made it impossible for the business of the edah to be conducted in the old pyramidal manner. The implications of this are yet to be fully felt.
Precisely because diaspora leaders are not present day to day and are not inside Israeli society -- the very things that make them diaspora leaders, namely, being in the diaspora and being inside other Jewish societies -- means that their ability to use their access is limited. By the very nature of the situation, there is no remedy for this nor should there be. Perhaps there are a few people who can be sufficiently inside both Israel and some diaspora Jewish society to have influence in both but it is likely to be a modest influence, because of the time and locational factors involved, and this ability is not given to more than a handful.
As Charles Liebman has pointed out, the degree of influence by the leaders or groups from one center on the internal life and activities of the other depends on three conditions: (1) how serious the desire for influence is, (2) how focused the effort is to bring influence to bear and perhaps how persistent as well, and (3) whether the particular group has strong allies in the other center. Thus Orthodox Jews have had more influence on religious issues in Israel than any other diaspora group because they best meet the three conditions. The issue is of extreme importance to them, they are willing to make focused and persistent efforts to exert their influence, and they have strong allies in Israel.
Similarly, the concern of Conservative and Reform Jews to gain official recognition in Israel has been limited in the sense that only recently have any of the "heavyweights" in their movements thrown their weight behind the effort. The effort has been sporadic and diffused, and those leading it had no strong allies within Israel. Nevertheless, when changes were proposed in the laws defining "Who is a Jew?" that would have substantially affected Conservative and Reform conversions, the two groups did get together and make a serious and focused attempt, for which they found allies in Israel and succeeded in tabling the matter whenever it has been raised.
Similar examples can be found in the other direction. Israeli efforts to influence Jewish education in the United States have been ambivalent, unfocused, and sporadic. Moreover, for a long time the Israelis had no firm allies in the United States except on the level of glittering generalities because only recently have they made an effort to develop close links with American Jewish educators. Hence their influence has been minimal. In the one or two areas where this is not so, it is precisely because in those program areas serious, focused, continuous efforts have been made in alliance with American Jewish counterparts. Cooperation in Israel programming and summer camping are examples of this, as are the community shaliah and scholar-in-residence programs.
On the other hand, in fundraising, the Israelis have been extremely serious. Their efforts have been focused and undeniably persistent, and they have strong local allies. The results speak for themselves. Despite periodic demands in the diaspora communities for reconsideration of the amounts allocated for Israel's needs, existing funding levels are at least maintained. From this, at least one point should be clear. Even under the best of circumstances, influence requires strong commitment, diligent work, and proper support. There is no avoiding that, no matter what frameworks are developed.