November 17, 2003

At the GA – merging Israeli hutzpa with American strategic planning. In these tough times, an infusion into the Israeli economy of 15 million tourist dollars in the space of 10 days is not, as our North American friends would say, “chopped liver.”

The General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities is, without question, an economic boon to Israel. Perhaps more importantly, it is a shot in the arm, a reminder that we are part of a larger community and that we have strong and loyal friends to lean on.

More than 4,200 North Americans are among the 6,000 participants at this GA, despite a State Department travel warning, sending a powerful message to those who determine Israel’s international credit rating and level of political support. That, too, is worth a lot.

But when the fanfare of this event is behind us, what are we Israelis left with? Many will be hoping that contacts made through targeted networking will yield substantive support to their favorite organizations or projects. Others will be inspired to deepen the level of the relationship and expand dialogue.

But some of us will set out on joint efforts with North American Jewish partners, joining forces that can propel our philanthropic endeavors or business ventures further than going it alone. We see the great value in combining the unique strengths derived from our different life experiences, merging Israeli hutzpa and creative solutions with American strategic planning and traditional business culture.

I found this to be true not only in my personal business dealings, but through my involvement with the Cleveland Jewish Federation through Zionism 2000, a social change organization dedicated to promoting personal responsibility for the community we live in.

As a relative newcomer on the philanthropic scene, and not unlike other young businesspeople inspired in the last decade to build a culture of social intervention in Israel, I have learned just how much there is to learn from our American friends. Perhaps the most profound lesson: how to apply the best business standards to charitable work.

My realwake-up call in this regard was the 2001 GA in Washington, DC, where I was privileged to be the Israel chair and lead a delegation of prominent young business leaders. We were amazed by the magnitude of commitment and the spectrum of opportunities. As the great Jewish meeting place of our day – where Jewish leaders, community professionals, social activists, businesspeople, sponsors and observers interact and enrich one another on so many levels – the GA, and the federation network behind it, is a vital vortex of Jewish activity.

Since that time, the work of Zionism 2000 has expanded from Cleveland/Partnership 2000 in Beit She’an to Detroit in the Jezreel Valley. We continue to be amazed by the way these communities apply business standards to philanthropic ventures. They demand accountability, they seek a good return on their investment, and they want to be certain that in the end that investment is maximized.

Like any good business prospect, how and with whom you partner can make or break the deal. Americans know that the best partner is one who enhances your value and increases your leverage and your ability to maneuver.

We in Israel must begin to widen the closed circles within which we work and broaden our relationships with each other and with federations, foundations and philanthropists in the Diaspora. We need to stop being so self-reliant and open up to the rich opportunities out there in the Jewish world.

Having said that, I am also proud of what we Israelis have to offer in these partnerships. There is definitely something special about the environment in which we work and deal.

Israel produces a lot of spunk, risk taking, and a natural flair for innovative problem solving. We are here on the ground and we instinctively understand the needs of our country. We know the internal politics and the bureaucracy, the market and the client. We will watch over the investment. And, as so many of us have proven over the last years, we are, in many cases, ready to match the funding of our partners.

I have no doubt that giving back to the community in which your business prospers is good business. Americans have known this for a long time. Now there are more and more Israelis putting the same challenge out to our colleagues and friends. If we want to create a society where every citizen can enjoy equal access and opportunity, and if we want every Jew, no matter where he or she lives, to take pride in the Zionist enterprise, then we have to create a civil society that reflects our values and goals and for which we are willing to invest ourselves and our resources.

To really do this, the business sector has to take the lead because the better off the community is, the better the business in the community. We all benefit. And that makes good business sense.

(Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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