Alan Hoffmann, Director-General of the Jewish Agency: "The separation of the educational system into various religious streams has a negative impact on the vision of Zionism"
Alan Hoffman , CEO of the Jewish Agency, immigrated to Israel in 1967 from South Africa and is the first immigrant to serve this function . How he sees the relationship between the religious and seculars in Israel and what he has to say about Tzav Pius? Exclusive Interview
Alan Hoffmann , Director General of the Jewish Agency , he immigrated to Israel in 1967 from South Africa. Graduate of Harvard University, where he specialized in educational policy. Previously was director of the Melton centre for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Executive Director of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE) and director of the Mandel Centre for Jewish Continuity at The Hebrew University. He also initiated the program "REVIVIM" - the Hebrew University training school Personnel in Israel Judaic Studies and served as Director of the Department of Jewish-Zionist Education of the Jewish Agency. Lives in Jerusalem, married and has four children.
First of all, as the CEO of the Jewish Agency, I wanted to ask you about your views on the social reality in Israel in terms of the trends of division and separation due to different religious perspectives. How do you analyze this complex situation within Israeli society? The division due to the religious split.
so I think that the State of Israel was created to be a Jewish state, not only a Jewish state, but a State of the Jewish people. The fathers of this society never fully understood that the particularly in the area of education, the separation of the educational system into various religious streams would have such a negative impact on the vision of creating a Jewish state that was at the heart of Zionism. And I think we have for 65 years we have paid the price of this decision, that is only creating greater and greater separation rather than making, rather than encouraging debate, conversation and complexity around the issues of the Jewishness of the State of Israel.
If we’re discussing this issue, and as you said, the negative effect these streams have had, do you see the educational activities of Tzav Pius that is trying to change this issue through education, through informal education, through summer camps, the Jewish Agency has a lot of experience with summer camps, what can you contribute to us on this topic?
One of the things that we’ve learned in the Jewish Agency is that when you give a young Israeli the opportunity to experience in a immersive context a Jewish way of life which is different from the one which he or she has experienced thus far, you open hearts and minds to the understanding (a) of the possibilities of creating some kind of common ground and common culture, but also the understanding of the place where the other is coming from. And I think that these are both preconditions to establishing a new and rich version of Judaism and Jewish culture in the Jewish State.
Okay. What do you, when facing the Jewish Diaspora, what is your most important goal now? Is Aliyah still your foremost goal? Or is it public diplomacy? Encouraging support for Israel?
The Jewish Agency over the last four years under the leadership of Natan Sharansky and I have been I think fairly centrally involved in this is to focus on two things. One is connecting young Jews who live outside of Israel to Israel as a core component of their identity but also connecting young Israelis to the Jewish people. If one could iagine each of these as a circle, we are most interested in the way these two circles overlap.
So that for example when a young Israel straight out of school does a year of civil service in a Jewish community like Toronto , two things are happening simultaneously, not only are they bringing Israel to their peers who live in Toronto and in that sense engaging the young Jew in Toronto as part of their identity, that young Israeli is himself or herself experiencing a Jewish immersion of an often very different experience of Judaism from that with which they are familiar and that becomes part of their cultural repertoire for the rest of their life. So, you know, I have a lot to say about this, but I’m watching the clock.
Just one more question, do you see yourselves collaborating with us? This is an important question I believe, in spreading the idea of shared education and living together?
But I would say that the Jewish Agency, one of the roles of the Jewish Agency is to represent Jewish communities from all over the world. And there is no doubt that Jewish communities all over the world, particularly in North America, have great difficulty in the polarization, the Jewish polarization of the educational system in Israel. And therefore, any and all attempts to bridge that polarization is something that Jewish communities throughout the world will be interested in, and the degree to which the Jewish Agency is an instrument for the work of the Jewish communities in Israel, this is something that will interest us.
Very true. Thank you so much.