Spend Down / Essays

Improving Communities in Israel through Partnerships
By Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Consul General, State of Israel, January 2015

In my role as Consul General, I work to ensure a vibrant society in Israel by maintaining strong friendships with influential American Jewish organizations. Their involvement greatly enhances the State of Israel and the well-being of its citizens. It is my privilege to write to you today about the valuable contribution that the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) has made over the years to the State of Israel, proving that foundations truly can work alongside government to impact positive change in communities and even nations.

Since the late 1980s, ACBP has taken on multiple projects with the goal of reaching out to people and improving our communities. Three examples in particular related to Israel are worth celebrating:

(1) ACBP noticed the decline of the length of the school day in Israeli public schools, and that a growing number of families could not afford enrichment opportunities like private tutoring and afterschool activities. One of its first initiatives was to create an enrichment program to extend Israeli day school hours, enabling professionals from various fields to educate beyond the traditional curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic. It brought energetic teachers into the classrooms and, as a result, attendance rates increased and the children went on to further their studies and pursue rewarding careers. Now, twenty-three years later, the program is now being absorbed by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry will continue to fund the program through a recently issued tender that will partner another foundation, Sachta Rashi, and the Israel Association of Community Centers to continue operation of the program.

(2) Following the successful negotiations that lead to the Oslo Agreement, ACBP created People-to-People diplomacy programming. The programs encouraged Israelis and Palestinians to act as good neighbors by grouping these diverse individuals together in the workforce. Scientists, educators, and businesspeople from different faiths and cultures set aside their differences and began building a network of cooperation.

(3) The most valuable, and potentially well-known, program that ACBP created in partnership with the Steinhardt Foundation is Birthright Israel. The program provides the gift of a ten day living and learning experience in Israel for any 18 to 26 year old Jew in the world. The young Jews spend ten days connecting to our State of Israel and to the Jewish people. To date, over 400,000 young men and women from 66 countries have participated in the program, exploring their heritage and Jewish identities, meeting other Jewish young adults, and gaining a new perspective about the Middle East. In addition, 70,000 Israeli young adults, mostly soldiers, have participated as full participants that experience Israel with their peers from abroad. Participants of both kinds return to their homes more educated and informed. The Birthright Israel concept is the single most effective tool we have to fight Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism on college campuses around the world.

All three of these programs have been highly successful in addressing pressing needs of the State of Israel. ACBP has worked cooperatively with the Government of Israel to expand these programs to ensure that they will continue to operate long after the Foundation has ended. While the active participation of ACBP will no longer be available, our country has benefited from its history and will continue to see the rewards from their programs for many years to come.

Ambassador Ido Aharoni is Consul General of Israel in New York, representing the State of Israel to communities from throughout the tri-state areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He has been a member of Israel’s Foreign Service since the summer of 1991. Ido held two overseas positions, in Los Angeles and New York, during his tenure in Israel’s diplomatic corps.

While serving as Consul for Media and Public Affairs in New York, he became familiar with nation-branding methods which he later introduced to his superiors in Jerusalem. His efforts in this area, which continue until today, have brought about a paradigm shift in Israel’s public image by Israeli officials in Israel and the United States.