According to UJA-Federation of New York’s 2011 Jewish Community Study, about 120,000 Israelis live in the New York area. That makes it home to the largest Israeli population outside of Israel. The number is even larger – 150,000 – when all Israelis living in the tristate area are factored in.
Not surprisingly, dozens of organizations have sprung up to serve that population, representing diverse groups and points of view. But it was not until recently – with the creation of Moatza Mekomit New York Inc. – that one group has set out to reach all those Israelis, bringing them information and making their views known to the wider community.
Aya Shechter, the Israel Connection director at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly and vice chair of the new Israeli organization, said the idea for the group took shape about a year ago, when the Jewish Agency for Israel invited Israeli leaders from communities around the United States and Canada “to talk about how the Israeli community is structuring itself within the Jewish community.
“Different models were presented by the different communities,” she said, pointing out that the Israelis in Los Angeles, for example, have a bottom-up organization called the Israeli Leadership Council, while Toronto’s group functions within its federation, and the Israelis in Palo Alto work through the JCC.
“The leaders invited from New York and New Jersey realized that we don’t have any strong body that unites us,” Shechter said. But while the meeting introduced them to many possible formats, none of the models seemed viable for this area. “We have so many organizations and our population is so spread out,” she said. “We’re trying to create a new model.”
Shechter said the Kaplen JCC Israel Connection department serves about 1,000 Israeli families from all over the county. Catering to both JCC members and non-members, the department runs programs in Hebrew for children, teenagers, and adults. Activities include Israeli movies and theater; Hebrew language Bible classes, cooking classes, and Mommy and Me programs; an Israeli chorus, “and a lot of events centering on Israel and Hebrew.”
She said that the Israeli community here is a mixture of “those who came for a year and stayed for 20, MBA students, young families, and older families and adults. All of them want to stay connected to Israel and want to be part of a community. The community here is large enough for both those who are here for a few years and those who stay 40 years. There’s a big enough mass of people.”
Because the Tenafly facility is so close to New York – many local Israelis both work in the city and are involved in Israeli activities there – it made sense for groups in the two areas “to start meeting with each other to discuss creating a body that will serve Israeli communities in the New York area,” Shechter said.
Explaining the need for an umbrella organization in the tristate region, she pointed out that “when the State of Israel is trying to reach out to Israelis – if they need to communicate something, or want to invite them to a ceremony or rally – there is nobody who can reach out to more than 10,000.”
“We need to collaborate and cooperate,” she said, noting “great initiatives for the Israeli community in Long Island, but those in Bergen County don’t know about it. It creates a situation where we have to re-invent the wheel when such great programs already exist.”
Shechter said that “because there is so much for Israelis in recent years, in terms of culture and education, even the most involved person – who wants to know what’s going on – needs to get on 20 or 30 different mailing lists. One community calendar pointing out resources for Israelis living here would be a great advantage.”
Moatza Komit New York (the New York local council) began to take shape last year when some 40 Israelis from New York and New Jersey undertook to meet monthly. The organization grew out of those meetings. Shechter is one of the 17 leaders who became board members of the new nonprofit group. Oren Heiman of New York, who is managing partner at Shiboleth, LLP, the largest Israeli law firm in the United States, is its chairman.
The group will introduce itself to the community formally on March 17, when it will hold what it is calling a “commencement seminar” at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
“The goal is to get feedback from the community on its needs,” Shechter said, noting that the ideas proposed by the expected 150 Israeli participants – representatives of community organizations – will become the new group’s working document for next year.
“We don’t plan on creating programs,” she said. “We aim to be a supporting force for existing organizations.”
Shechter said the JCC already has begun to benefit from the collaborative efforts that led to the formation of Moatza Mekomit.
“I’ve been able to communicate with other Israeli communities that are close by,” she said. “Through these meetings I met the leader of the Israeli community in Riverdale. We’re planning to create a family weekend in August to bring the two communities together.
“It’s a way to broaden our social network and also to enjoy cultural activities we didn’t know about.”