Jewish Agency Launches Online Sukkot Contest

A decorated sukkah.

— by Josh Berkman

With the holiday of Sukkot approaching, The Jewish Agency for Israel has launched Sukkathon 2013, an online contest to “identify the world’s most beautiful and innovative sukkah.”

For Sukkathon 2013, the Agency encourages Jews around the world to send pictures of their sukkahs to the address [email protected] or tweet it to @Jewishagency with the hashtag #number1sukkah. All submissions must be received by 11 a.m. ET on Sept. 23. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

“Sukkot celebrates the warmth felt by members of the Jewish community as they gather for meals in these intimate settings,” said Tali Aronsky, The Jewish Agency’s director of communications in North America. “We look forward to showcasing the artistry and creativity that exists within the global Jewish family and invite Jews who are proud of their sukkahs to show them off.”

More after the jump.
The Agency has assembled a judging panel that includes an internationally recognized architect, an art critic and an artist. The judges are:

  • Pam Davidson, who was a principle architect in Cape Town before making Aliyah. She helped design the FIFA World Cup Stadium and the South African Heritage Storage Museum, as well as residential and municipality projects in Israel. She also blogs about architecture and Israel.
  • Julia Weiner, who has been the Jewish Chronicle’s art critic since 1993. She also works as a lecturer in art history at Regent’s University London, on the education staff at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and advises the London Jewish Cultural Centre on their exhibition programs.
  • Betina Schnaid, who emigrated to Israel from Brazil in 2011. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and a Master’s Degree in Graphic Design, and represented Israel at the first “London Art Biennale” in 2013.

Sharansky Presents Western Wall Plan to Knesset Committee

— by Joshua Berkman

While Israelis were preparing for Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), marking the unification of the city and renewed Jewish access to the Western Wall, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky met last Tuesday with the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, where he presented an outline of his plan to create a section for egalitarian prayer in the southern part of the Kotel (Western Wall).

More after the jump.
Mr. Sharansky addressed the committee:

Every Jew in the world has a unique relationship with the Kotel. There is no other place in the world that fulfills such a role in the life, history, and identity of any nation. It is naturally in our interest for every Jew to express his or her own connection as he or she sees fit. Ultimately, the solution will not come through court rulings or legislation, but rather through a broad agreement between all segments of the Jewish people.

Sharansky then laid out the details for an egalitarian prayer area that would be equal in size to the current prayer area, open around the clock, and accessible via a single, shared entrance, along with the current men’s and women’s sections. “Every Jew will enter the Kotel area through a single entryway and will then decide whether to pray in a traditional Orthodox manner or in a non-Orthodox manner,” he said. Sharansky also noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted the plan in principle.

I had a very impressive meeting with Reform and Conservative leaders, with representatives of the Orthodox Union, of Agudath Israel, of Chabad, of Modern Orthodox organizations, in which all said they would be willing to accept this solution.

With regards to implementation of the plan, Sharansky noted that certain archaeological elements would have to be resolved, but suggested that construction could begin within one month, an initial stage could be completed within 10 months, and the entire plan could be actualized within two years. The government has insisted on covering all costs, he said.

Members of Knesset from across the political spectrum hailed Sharansky’s plan, promising support for its implementation. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who serves as Rabbi of the Western Wall and of the Holy Sites of Israel, acknowledged that he has some reservations about the plan, but said that the fact that no one is entirely satisfied by it could be an indication that it is the correct solution. Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Andrew Sacks of the Conservative Movement, and Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall all expressed support for Mr. Sharansky’s efforts.

Committee Chairwoman MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) summarized the discussion by reminding those in attendance that “we must never forget the Kotel’s place in the heart of the Jewish people,” and by telling Mr. Sharansky that “we are here for you and will extend any and all assistance in bringing your plan to fruition.”

“I share both the hopes and the concerns expressed today,” Sharansky concluded.

If we wish to reach a significant compromise, we will have to take unconventional steps. We must listen to one another and treat one another with respect, otherwise none of this will be possible.

Jewish Agency to Provide Emergency Aid to Greek Jewish Community

— by Joshua Berkman

The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, comprised of leaders and representatives of Jewish communities around the world and meeting this week in Jerusalem, voted to grant emergency aid to the Jewish community of Greece in order to address immediate needs in the wake of the crippling financial crisis in the country.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky convened an urgent meeting of the organization’s leadership, which decided to provide some $1 million over two years to help the Greek Jewish community weather one of the worst crises it has faced in living memory. The funds will enable communal institutions to continue their operations, including programs to strengthen the community’s ties with Israel and the development of unique aliyah (immigration) tracks for those members of the community who wish to immigrate to Israel.  

More after the jump.
The aid package will be funded by the Jewish Agency and by its partners, Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

The Jewish Agency leadership, including the leaders of Keren Hayesod-UIA and the Jewish Federations of North America, also announced a special fundraising campaign for the Jews of Greece and the Jewish Agency decided to dispatch Hebrew teachers to local schools and summer camps in Greece, within the coming months, in order to preserve Hebrew instruction in the community.

Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece, of whom some 3,500 reside in Athens and an additional 1,000 in Thessaloniki.  The Jewish community operates synagogues, a Jewish school, a museum, and a soup kitchen.  According to community leaders, the majority of Jewish communal institutions in the country are on the verge of closure due to the financial crisis gripping the country, which has led to a dramatic decline in donations, the collapse of income from communal assets, and a series of new taxes imposed on the communal institutions themselves.  Many members of the Jewish community are now unemployed and falling below the poverty line. Some 70 elderly members of the community require financial support to pay for basic necessities such as food and shelter.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said,

The Jews of Greece are known for their tremendous generosity toward their needy brethren in Israel and around the Jewish world.  They have contributed some $20 million to Keren Hayesod-UIA over the past decade, a huge per capita sum that has helped support the disadvantaged in Israel and elsewhere.  Today, this wonderful community needs us, and it would be unthinkable for us not to come to their aid in their time of need.