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Can the New CEO of Int’l Development for the Jewish Agency Get the Organization Off of Life Support?



New immigrants from USA and Canada arrive in Israel. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

For over 80 years, the Jewish Agency has served as the link between the Jewish people and Israel, and its primary focus and major activities include the forging of strong connections to Israel through a sequence of Israel experiences for teens and young adults as well as arranging details of aliyah for Jews around the world.

In 2014, however, news reports emerged which pointed to the Jewish Agency’s aliyah agenda having been supplanted by other objectives, and thus failing in its original mission. In November of that year, the Jewish Voice published an in depth investigative article on how the Jewish Agency descended from the premiere facilitator of aliyah to Israel, to a largely ineffective behemoth.

In a previous 2010 report filed by The Jewish Voice which explored precisely how and where Jewish Agency funds are being appropriated, it was noted that in an article that appeared in the Haaretz newspaper by Anshel Pfeffer, inflated agency salaries were addressed.

The article revealed that Dr. Misha Galperin, the former CEO and president of Jewish Agency International Development (JAID) who was based in New York several years ago was paid $478,000 in 2010, according to an IRS report. This isn’t reflective of his actual salary though, as Galperin began working for the agency in June 2010 and the $478,000 compensation was his pay for only seven months. Galperin’s annual remuneration, including expenses and benefits, was nearly a million dollars, according to the report.

The article also shed light on the fact that the Jewish Agency annual financial report for 2010 that was filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) indicated that its chairman, Natan Sharansky’s salary for that year totalled $214,000; 30 percent more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who appointed him. The report revealed that Netanyahu’s salary was $164,000 before taxes in 2010.

Shortly after Galperin started work, JAFI set up Jewish Agency International Development (JAID), with Galperin as its president and CEO.  JAID, which was to become the agency’s main fundraising channel, recruited dozens of new employees who worked alongside the existing staff of JAFI North America; among them two vice-presidents, Arthur Sandman and Nirit French, who made around $250,000 each.

“JAID is a monstrous and wasteful structure built by Galperin,” said a veteran agency employee, “while all around the organization is cutting back and people are getting fired.”

In terms of taking over the reins from the Jewish Agency as it pertains to a highly successful aliyah apparatus, in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) was born. The mission of Nefesh B’Nefesh is to make the aliyah process easier, facilitate the integration of new Olim into Israeli society and to educate the Jews of the Diaspora as to the centrality of Israel to the Jewish People.

By removing professional, logistical and financial obstacles, and sharing the aliyah story of olim actively building the State of Israel, Nefesh B’Nefesh encourages others to actualize their aliyah dreams.

They are dedicated to making each oleh, and every aliyah, a success.

On December 23, 2018, World Israel News reported that Nefesh B’Nefesh has launched the 2019 Initiative for Zionist Innovation, which aims to support new immigrants committed to strengthening and improving their communities.

The Initiative “is all about community – how to improve and enhance your opportunity to integrate and strengthen your neighborhood,” NBN states on its site.

“With mentorship from community builders, networking assistance, seed funding and logistical support, we believe that olim will have better acclimation rates,” NBN adds.

The 2019 NBN Initiative for Zionist Leadership is focused on one topic – community and connection building, which includes projects dedicated to creating and facilitating community, connectedness and communication by and for olim; initiatives committed to encouraging community growth and development; and to activities and programs that benefit new immigrants.

Successful candidates are eligible for a financial grant to assist in actualizing their projects.

“This year’s Initiative for Zionist Innovation is focused on empowering olim to effect change within their own communities through olim getting involved and creating positive changes on their immediate surroundings.” Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, told Israel National News.

“The Steinmetz Herskovitz Family Fund believes in the potential of olim to improve the communities they live in, because they have already done so in their previous Jewish communities”, said Marty Herskovitz, an oleh and philanthropist, INN reported. “We are certain that by providing them, in conjunction with Nefesh B’Nefesh, with seed money, organizational skills and a support network, they will build vibrant, supportive and intellectually stimulating communities that will serve as a model for cities across Israel.”

NBN is responsible for facilitating the aliyah of more than 57,000 Jews from North America and the United Kingdom since 2002.

The Jewish Agency for Israel recently announced in a press release sent to the media that Gail Reiss has been appointed as the new President and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development (JAID).

The press release says that Reiss joins The Jewish Agency from American Friends of Tel Aviv University, where she served as President and CEO, having previously served as Vice President of the UJA-Federation of New York’s Philanthropic Leadership Group. Reiss has also held several prior senior positions with the UJC-JFNA which have included multiple partnerships with The Jewish Agency, including the planning of the National Campaign Chair and Directors’ mission, and all major gift missions.

According to the press release Reiss’ deep knowledge and understanding of Jewish development will be an asset to The Jewish Agency and JAID because of her extensive experience in cultivating and engaging major gift donors.

The press release indicates that Reiss’ expertise positions her to lead and expand the organization’s development efforts, with an initial focus on North America. Under Reiss’ leadership, fundraising and support teams will work to respond to a changing and competitive fundraising environment, strengthening The Jewish Agency’s partnership with the Jewish Federations throughout North America, as well as worldwide efforts with Keren Hayesod, and also placing a greater emphasis on outreach to individual donors and foundations.

“I’ve been very impressed by Gail’s passion, professionalism, and sincere commitment to Israel and Jewish peoplehood, and look forward to our work together,“ stated Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency. “We are delighted to have her onboard.”

Reiss will commence her position on January 22, 2019 and will be based out of the organization’s New York office.

What the Jewish Agency press release does not address is whether Ms. Reiss can revive the organization that she is slated to represent. Will JAID just continue to raise funds for high priced salaries and not help facilitate its mission purpose of aliyah?

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Daniel Chejfec

    12/26/2018 at 2:37 pm

    The Jewish Agency was founded as a shadow government for the Jewish Community in British Palestine ca 1920. It served its purpose of organizing the Jewish community and setting the foundations of the State institutions which later became the State of Israel. From Independence and throughout the second half of the twentieth Century, JAFI (the “Sojnut”) was a beacon and a symbol for Jews around the world who saw Zionism as the legitimate movement for Jewish self-determination. Like so many other institutions, it started losing directions and focused on self-preservation. JAFI continues to be, however, the one forum where the Diaspora and Israel forge a true partnership for the future of the Jewish People. I hope they will bring it back on track…

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