We, the extended OTZMA family, are shocked and appalled by the decision by The Jewish Federations of North America to end the premiere Israel experience program for post-college young adults. We urge JFNA to reverse its decision and to reconsider whether it truly wants to shutter a program that has such a positive impact on its own Federation movement, not to mention other Jewish philanthropic organizations, as well as communities in Israel and in the Diaspora.
OTZMA has given hundreds of young American Jews an immersive and meaningful year experience in Israel in a way that no other short- or long-term program is able to do. Its dynamic education curriculum takes participants on study tours throughout the year to enhance their understanding of what they experience in their daily life, placing topics featured the news media into their proper context. By living in both major cities as well as towns in the periphery, OTZMAnikim return to North America with a greater understanding of the challenges these communities face, and how they, as emerging leaders, can play a part in building a better future for the Jewish people, both in Israel and the Diaspora.
By deciding to end OTZMA, JFNA is missing an incredible opportunity to build leaders for the Federation movement who have a strong and real understanding of Israel and Israeli society. OTZMAnikim spend a full third of their year living and volunteering in their Partnership 2Gether communities, which pair a North American Jewish community with one in Israel, partnerships that are supported and funded by the Federation movement. OTZMA ensures that these leaders of the future have a real understanding of how Federations work, how their philanthropic efforts seek to effect change in Israel, and how they can connect to their local Federation when the program ends.
If it is truly not interested in running OTZMA, we urge JFNA to help OTZMA find an organizational home that will allow it to thrive and to continue for a 28th year of programming, and one that will allow it to continue working with the partnership communities who look forward to welcoming a new group of OTZMAnikim every year.
It is worth reading OTZMA’s mission and history to realize just how much will be lost if the program is allowed to be shut down:
OTZMA is a leadership and service experience in Israel that offers Jewish adults ages 20-30 (college graduates preferred) an opportunity to live and volunteer in Israel in a variety of settings for 10 months.
Promotes direct contact and strengthen ties between the North American Jewish Community and Israel.
Provides its participants with the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution of service to Israel.
Facilitates opportunities for development of leadership qualities and personal exploration of Jewish identity.
Offers experiential and educational opportunities that foster a deeper understanding of Israel.
The Story of OTZMA's Establishment
In 1983, a group of young North Americans and Israelis involved in all facets of society -- private industry, communications, business, education, the military -- gathered at the Moriah Hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea.
Both groups had a deep concern about the growing gap between Diaspora Jewry and Israel and were anxious to find true partners with whom they could conduct a meaningful dialogue on the issue of Israel-Diaspora relations.
This group understood that younger generations of Jews don’t share the common experiences of the Holocaust or the establishment of the State of Israel like their parents and grandparents. If they wanted to bridge the growing gap between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, they would have to create a new common experience that would be relevant for both groups.
This, they concluded, would be done in two ways:
To continue to engage in an open dialogue that would facilitate further understanding between Israeli and the Diaspora Jews
To initiate hands-on projects. The goal of these programs would be to bridge the gap between Diaspora Jews and Israelis by initiating meaningful and personal contacts.
By January, 1985, the group had created the Israeli Forum -- a volunteer organization with its members dedicated to reaching out to the Diaspora. Its sister organization, the North American Jewish Forum, was created as the counterpart for the dialogue. Once the Forum became an organized body with lay and professional leadership, the idea of OTZMA (meaning STRENGTH) moved from theory to implementation. The program would expose its participants to the diverse facets of Israel, challenging them and allowing them to grow and to develop skills and knowledge applicable to the Jewish communities in North America upon their return.
The federations in North America would recruit and select young Jewish adults with motivation, commitment and initiative for a service-oriented year in Israel. For the first 25 years, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) would implement the program; creating the educational content and facilitating volunteer placements in local Israeli communities.
Over the past 26 years, OTZMA has developed into an engaging and immersive service learning and leadership development experience for over 1,400 participants, still true to the original mission of bringing Israeli and Diaspora Jews closer together.
Today, OTZMA is coordinated in North America by The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella organization of all federations in the United States and Canada (www.jewishfederations.org).