Michelle Cohen of JAFI Speaks with JCL Staff

[Archived from June 5, 2009]

Louisville’s Jewish community has spent much of this year focusing on our local agencies, and we have accomplished much. With the merger of the Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Community Center to form The Louisville Jewish Community, we have set a path to prepare for the future. Jewish Family & Career Services has also been adapting and changing with the times. And we’ve devoted time and energy to our educational agencies, our synagogues and temples, National Council of Jewish Women and more.

But it is also important to remember that the Jewish community of Louisville is also part of a global Jewish community, and Jews around the world are also affected by what we do here.

To help bring our role in the world Jewish community into focus, Michelle Cohen, the regional director of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) spoke to staff members from The Louisville Jewish Community and Jewish Family & Career Services on Wednesday, May 27. JAFI is supported by allocations from Annual Campaigns from Jewish communities across North America and similar fund-raising efforts in other countries.

Cohen explained that JAFI helps Jews immigrate to Israel, helps Jewish communities in crisis, works to bridge social and economic gaps in Israel, provides transformative experiences that connect Jews to Judaism and Israel, builds global partnerships and brings Israeli philanthropists to the table with Jews around the world.

A recent example of helping a Jewish community in crisis, Cohen pointed out, was during the war in Georgia. JAFI was on the ground immediately and facilitated aliyah (immigration to Israel) for 100 Jews, even arranging a temporary ceasefire to allow their plane to leave.

Once people make aliyah, JAFI is there to ease their way. JAFI runs 34 absorption centers to help the olim (immigrants) make the transition into Israeli society. When young adults make aliyah without their families and enter the Israeli army, JAFI provides support for “lone soldiers.”

With a goal of increasing Jewish immigration to Israel, JAFI brings young adults to Israel for experiences that last from 5 months to a year, runs camps throughout the former Soviet Union to introduce Jews to Israel, and sends shlichim (emissaries) to communities around the world to teach about Israel and advocate for the Jewish State.

In Israel, JAFI also helps youth at risk with a variety of programs from youth villages to emergency response programs in Sderot. The agency runs the Partnership with Israel program connecting Israeli and Diaspora communities. The Louisville Jewish Community has participated in this program since its inception as part of the Central Area Consortium partnered with the Western Galilee.

Cohen appealed to The Louisville Jewish Community to continue its support for JAFI.

Like every other agency, JAFI has been impacted by reduced donations and the economic crisis. Over the past year, the agency has saved $21 million by reducing its overhead. This year, it is facing an additional $74 million in cuts and will be forced to reduce programs and services.

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