By Doron Krakow
Joining Hands With a Modern-Day Hero
A commitment to service. Personal ties. People before politics. These are the items on the agenda of Doron Almog, the newly elected chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). A brief glimpse into his biography reveals that Almog is a modern-day hero. Across a decades-long military career, he rose to become head of the IDF’s Southern Command; participated in bringing the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre to justice; and was a leader in the historic raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda that rescued nearly 150 hostages from a hijacked Air France jet, as well as in the earliest airlifts of Ethiopian Jews fleeing persecution and fulfilling their centuries’-long dream to return to Zion.
Following his extraordinary military career, he took on a new challenge with similar tenacity: The father of a child, Eran, born with severe disabilities, he and his wife discovered ALEH Negev, a modest community of such families working together to find ways to support their children and one another. With the kind of resolve that defined his service in the IDF, he committed himself to growing ALEH Negev into something that could serve thousands of families of children with disabilities. Today, ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran is home to more than 150 children, teens, and young adults and serves more than 12,000 others on an outpatient basis. Its new name honors the memory of Eran, who succumbed to Castleman disease in 2007.
My goodness. Such achievements would be enough for several lifetimes. But Almog has now begun another new chapter, one in which his tenacious pursuit of success will be tested once more.
The Jewish Agency for Palestine was established in 1929 to support a growing Jewish community under the British Mandate. In time it became a shadow government in anticipation of the establishment of an independent Jewish state. David Ben-Gurion was its chairman for more than a decade, right up until the moment on May 14, 1948, when he became the founding prime minister of the newly declared State of Israel. In the years since, JAFI has been dedicated to the ingathering of the exiles, as Jews from around the world came home, and to Jewish education and Jewish identity building across the globe.
Today that mission includes a passionate commitment to Jewish peoplehood: strengthening ties between and among Jews no matter where they choose to make their homes and building bonds between Israel, which has the world’s largest Jewish population, and Jewish communities of every size and description wherever they may be found. The efforts of Almog and his team will now focus on the Jewish people’s shared commitment to service and to promoting initiatives through which we can do service together. To fostering and encouraging connections between Israelis living and working abroad and their Jewish neighbors, colleagues, and acquaintances. To ensuring that Israel’s most powerful diplomats, its shlichim (emissaries of every age sent to summer camps, schools, youth movements, cultural institutions, and myriad other settings), will enable those they encounter to know Israel by first knowing Israelis.
I met Doron Almog in 2019, when our delegation of JCC Movement leaders visited Nahalat Eran as part of the 70 Faces Leadership Seminar. He hosted us with pride and remarkable humility in light of all that he had achieved there. As our movement works toward inclusion of individuals with disabilities and all who wish to join our community, our leaders gained both insight and inspiration from seeing what he had helped build in the Negev.
This past Sunday Leah Garber, the leader of JCC Association’s Center for Israel Engagement, and I sat in Almog’s office with him and senior members of his staff – the office formerly occupied by David Ben-Gurion himself – discussing the remarkable intersection between his vision for the Jewish Agency and our unrivaled opportunities for the engagement of North American Jews. JCC camps are already home to the largest number of Jewish Agency summer shlichim on the continent. Dozens of year-round shlichim work in JCCs of every size and description, and recent years have seen their numbers grow through an array of new partnerships and alliances with longstanding and newfound allies. Our movement’s commitment to service finds increasing expression in new and growing collaborations with Repair the World, JCC Global, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and a host of local partners and friends.
If you’re looking for Israelis living abroad, there’s no better place to find them than in a JCC – many of which are home to chapters of the Tsofim (the Israeli Scouts), offices of Israeli organizations such as IsraAID, and programs sponsored by IAC (the Israeli American Council) among others. It is in JCCs that communities come together to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) and mark Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day), on which we honor the memories of those whose lives have been lost in her defense, and Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).
Everything that makes JCCs the Jewish community’s town square also makes it the perfect place to gather, meet, build ties, and make friends. That’s our magic. That’s what we do.
Having recognized the JCC Movement’s unique potential as the largest platform for Jewish engagement on the continent – welcoming more than a million Jews for in-person programs and activities each week – Doron Almog joins a growing circle of Jewish leaders who increasingly understand our role as perhaps the preeminent engine for Jewish life across North America in the 21st century and beyond. And in Doron we couldn’t ask for a more formidable, determined, or heroic partner.
May 5783 be the beginning of bold new partnerships – a shared commitment to Jewish community, to Jewish peoplehood, and to an ever-brighter future for Israel and the Jewish world.
Chag Sukkot sameach and Shabbat shalom.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America