Isaac Herzog, chair of the executive of the Jewish Agency, predicted that there would be a dramatic increase in the rate of immigration to Israel during a special online Limmud FSU event chaired by Aaron G. Frenkel, the president of the organisation.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL, June 09, 2020 /Neptune100/ — In an overview of the future of the Jewish world in the wake of the coronavirus, chaired by Aaron G. Frenkel, president of Limmud FSU, Isaac Herzog, chair of the executive of the Jewish Agency, predicted today that there would be a dramatic increase in the rate of immigration to Israel, but that the pressing need is to provide Jews in lockdown with Jewish content, despite being cut off from Jewish community.

While Limmud FSU generally mounts peer-led, volunteer-based gatherings of Jewish learning that specifically reach out to Russian-speaking Jews around the world from Moscow to the US West Coast, and from Europe to Israel, in a project initiated by Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler, and produced by Limmud FSU Public Affairs director Natasha Chechik, since the corona lockdown made physical conferences impossible, Limmud FSU has been providing digital e-learning opportunities on Jewish, general – and coronavirus – topics. Sessions have also been arranged by volunteer organizing committees of the festivals. These online gatherings are an opportunity for Russian-speaking Jews to learn – and be – together, virtually.

A central theme of Herzog’s analysis of the crises and challenges facing the Jewish world was precisely this dichotomy of preserving community through virtual contact. “Jews live as a community and need community institutions, but all this is currently totally paralyzed,” he said; “Jewish life needs community centers, social services, kindergartens, schools, summer camps, which are particularly important for Jewish engagement in North America, immersive educational experiences in Israel.” Virtually none of this can currently take place, he explained. “Some communities in the US are not even sure they will be able to hold community prayers for the New Year in September; other communities have been particularly badly shaken by disproportionately high mortality rates.”

Noting that the entire Jewish world anticipates a drop in philanthropic income as a result of the coronavirus and concomitant economic crisis, Herzog stressed that the needs remain high, perhaps even higher than before. “How do communities educate their young when Jewish schools are private, and currently closed? There are security needs; antisemitism must be addressed; communities need morale, hope, leadership. What are the sources of income to meet them?” These are the main issues defined in a global forum the Jewish Agency convened last week, Herzog explained, of country and regional organizations. “But they are all entwined. We are trying to convince the Jewish world that we have sufficient resources to provide help to communities in particular need, despite the crisis. Jewish vibrancy is dependent on activities – and on fundraising.”

And what is the role of the Israel government?

Herzog suggested that the paradigm might have changed, and that while traditionally the sense was that the Jewish world had to help Israel in times of crisis, “we are discussing with the government that this should now work the other way round. Israel is seen as coming out of the coronavirus have coped well.” However, he noted, the country does not yet have a budget.

Herzog also predicted that there could be 250,000 immigrants over the next three-five years, and that this is also being raised with the Israel government. “People who were already thinking of moving to Israel have time to consider it further while locked up at home; they have time to think about starting anew.”

“If before the pandemic the concern was how to preserve Jewish consensus faced with major divides about different attitudes to Judaism, now our main concern is how to preserve Jewish life for individuals. Judaism is based on community; how can we maintain community when people are isolated from each other?”