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May 30, 1986 - Image 18

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-05-30

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Friday, May 30, 1986


it takes many of them a full year before
they can communicate effectively. Fluen-
cy in English should be a prime criterion
of selection.
* Shlichim are not adequately briefed
before coming and frequently have no
chance to meet with their predecessors, so
they have to waste many months learning
the job from scratch.
* Political party affiliation "has not
proved to be a productive selection basis,"
and appointments should be made on the
basis of personal and professional quali-
* The shlichim display a lack of knowl-
edge about the structure and style of
American Jewish life, and about the
religious and cultural pluralism that exists
in the U.S. "They come with a particular
bias or a particular strain of religious or
political belief which limits their effec-
tiveness to the group which thinks along
the same lines." Shlichim should be given
"intensive learning experiences relating to
the totality of life in the U.S. prior to their
arrival," the Americans recommended.
* The criteria for assigning shlichim
should be revised, to avoid situations now
common where a youth group with a small
membership has more shlichim than a
group with many more members.
Criticism at 515 Park Avenue has also
focused on what the American Zionist
leaders regard as the amateurish approach
of shlichim to some of the more compli-
cated aspects of their jobs. Shlichim are
often expected to organize and publicize
tours to Israel that are sponsored by their
departments, without having any ex-
perience in these areas and without any in-
put from travel or public relations special-
ists, which is ruled out as "too expensive."
The Landau Commission concluded that
much of the duplication, waste and pol-
itical excesses of the system could be
eliminated if most of the functions in-
volved in the selection, coordination and
organization of shlichim could be trans-
ferred from the departments to a central
shlichut authority.
The shlichim dispatched to each country .
would each have specific functional tasks
as part of a unified group working closely
with the local Zionist federations. Adopt-
ing these measures would enable the WZO
to cut the shlichut roster by a third
without harming the quality or quantity
of the work done, the report said. The com-
mission's recommendations for redefining
the ideological role of shlichim are much
more vague, however, and do not seem to
have been formulated with the special con-
ditions of American Jewry in mind.
These general criticisms and recommen-
dations blur some important distinctions
between types of shlichim. Most of the
problems cited pertain mainly to youth
movement and aliya shlichim, while the
community shlichut has been widely

Where Do All Our Dollars Go?

praised as a positive element on an other-
wise highly problematic scene.
The youth movement shlichim have a
venerable tradition in the Zionist move-
ment, and they were responsible for inspir-
ing small numbers of young American
Jews to make aliya in the early years of
the state. Some of them in turn made
important contributions to Israel as halut-
zim (pioneers) building new kibbutzim in
the outlying areas of the country. Even
though some young American Jews are
still attracted by the ideals of Zionist
pioneering, many people today believe that
the role of the classic Zionist youth move-
ment shaliach may be anachronistic —
especially in view of the large numbers of
shlichim relative to the small numbers of
youth movement members.
According to figures obtained from Don
Adelman, the former director of the
American Zionist Youth Foundation
(AZYF), there are about 20,000 teenagers
and students who are considered to be
members of the main classical Zionist
youth movements, which are attached to
political movements in the WZO.
The largest of these is Young Judea,

Many shlichim have to
learn their vaguely
defined jobs virtually
from scratch, which
may take them the
better part of a year.

which has over 10,000 members and 12
shlichim assigned to it. The others —
which include Bnei Akiva, Betar, Hab-
onim, Masada, and Hashomer Hatzair —
range in size from over 3,000 to under
1,000. It is recognized, though, that the
figures for the latter groups are somewhat
overstated, since the notion of "members"
can encompass youths who may turn up
only a few times a year for activities, or
those who sign up for a summer trip to
Israel and never attend any meetings
afterwards. Nevertheless, these five
groups with their estimated 10,000 mem-
bers have a total of 45 shlichim assigned
to them by the Youth and Hehalutz
The imbalance in the allocation of youth
shlichim is apparent when one compares
these figures to the number assigned to
the largest American Jewish youth
groups: United Synagogue Youth (20-
25,000) of the Conservative movement, the
Reform National Federation of Temple
Youth (15,000), the Orthodox National
Council of Synagogue Youth (10,000) and
the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization
(25-30,000). These groups, with a total of

about 80,000 youth, have only 10 shlichim
altogether from the Youth and Hehalutz
Department. While these groups or their
parent organizations have been associated
with the WZO for only about 10 years,
there is still a great unmet demand among
them for Israel-oriented activities that can
best be provided or supervised by shlichim
from Israel.
In theory at least, these major American
Jewish youth organizations provide a
golden opportunity for the WZO to spread
the Zionist message to masses of youth.
The department's notion of fairness in the
distribution of shlichim, however, is to
allot three shlichim each to USY, NIFTY,
and NCSY, so that in formal terms at
least, the Conservative, Reform and
Orthodox movements cannot complain of
discrimination on this level.
The Landau Commission cited this im-
balance in the allocation of shlichim, and
recommended that these three movements
be allowed to have a role in the process
that decides how many shlichim are
assigned to the various movements. This
process has always been political, and the
number of available shlichim posts have
always been divided up in the WZO as part
of the general "spoils system" operating
Since the three parent bodies of NIFTY,
USY and NCSY are only weakly repre-
sented in.the WZO, they have no leverage
to secure a more equitable system of
Since many of the classical Zionist youth
movements have few members, the work
for shlichim with chapters at the local level
takes up relatively little time. Many
shlichim take on other tasks such as
recruiting for kibbutz programs, organiz-
ing settlement groups, doing Zionist work
on campuses, teaching in Jewish schools
or working in Jewish community centers.
In addition, they are expected to look after
the interests of their sponsoring Israeli
political body in the communities where
they are assigned.

The job of youth movement shaliach can
easily become a patchwork affair where
bits and pieces of tasks are added to the
basic one, which in itself would not be suf-
ficient to justify the expense of sending a
shaliach and his or her family abroad.
Since the job is worked out on an ad hoc
basis, this raises the question of how ap-
propriate candidates can be selected for a
job that is defined only after the shaliach
arrives on the scene.
One could argue that if a community
needed more teachers or community center
workers from Israel, it would be more
logical to select shlichim with these tasks
in mind, rather than having a youth move-
ment shaliach do this work "on the side"
because he has only 12 kids in his local
chapter, which meets only on every other

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