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November 6, 2014 8:14 am

Israelis Should Not Finance American Jewish Education

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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The Israeli Education Ministry headquarters. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman recently said that the State of Israel should help Jewish youth in the Diaspora get a Jewish education.

Wortzman said that “The government of Israel must help children in the Diaspora obtain a Jewish education. If we allocate 55 billion shekels ($14.5 billion) a year to provide a Jewish education for children in Israel, it’s inconceivable that, for the rest of world Jewry, we barely provide one percent of that.”

In the past, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he would work to secure $365 million annually from Israel’s budget for Jewish education. At the time, he noted, “For many years, Israeli officials have called on our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora… to donate your time, energies and funds to Israel.” Lieberman continued, “However, I turn to you today and say that, while we are enormously and forever grateful for your assistance, we believe it is now time to concentrate on the challenges facing your own communities, especially those emanating from the dangerous trends in the Jewish community demonstrated in the recent [Pew] survey.”

Previous studies have claimed that there will be $1 billion shekels spent by Israel on Diaspora Jewish education by 2017.

From a purely economic perspective, these policies are clearly a positive – participants will be more Jewish and hence spend money and time in Israel. There will be more kids involved in Israel, and dedicated to a strong Jewish State.

But is there not a major “Zionist” problem with this initiative? Perhaps the many American Jewish organizations with tens of millions in assets should re-examine their priorities instead. Maybe Jewish “defense agencies” such as the ADL should stop counting swastikas painted on barns in Iowa, and focus on something that makes a difference for the Jewish people?

With rampant American Jewish assimilation, organizations like the American Jewish Committee waste their nearly $100 million dollars in assets condemning Israel. Could not those funds be used to educate American Jewry rather than taxing citizens of the State of Israel?

It strikes me as “un-Zionist” that Israelis should pay for the education of American Jews. While there must be radical changes to educate American Jews about the greatness of Judaism and further expose them to the beauty of Israel, I firmly believe it is a mistake to ask Israelis to finance American Jewry. It’s just not fair.

The author of this article, Ronn Torossian, is a board member of numerous Jewish organizations, including the largest Russian-American organization in the U.S., the Russian-American Jewish Experience (RAJE.)

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