Troubled Israel-Diaspora Initiative names CEO in a bid to get back on track

(JTA) – A troubled Israeli initiative aimed at forging closer ties with the diaspora named a CEO in a bid to revive the project.

The Israel-Diaspora Initiative on Tuesday named Amy Holtz to lead what has been a two-year effort for the initiative to find its feet.

Holtz, until now the president of Jerusalem U, a group that aims to build solidarity with Israel among Jews in the Diaspora through educational programming, said her initial focus would be on raising funds for the initiative.

“I plan on spending the next few months, after ordering a phone line and business cards, meeting everybody and speaking with everyone,” she told JTA in an interview.

Israel’s government launched the initiative in 2013, and in 2014 earmarked about $70 million for one third of its budget, saying the remainder should come from donors and the organized Jewish world.

Since then, the initiative has been plagued by bureaucratic infighting inside Israel’s government, and has failed to find major funding partners. Two organizations originally partnered with the initiative, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Ruderman Family Foundation, last year distanced themselves from the project.

Holtz was selected by the Israel-Diaspora Initiative’s steering committee, comprising a number of philanthropists. Its chair is Gary Torgow, who is prominent in the Detroit Jewish community.

“Israel-Diaspora Initiative” is a temporary name; one of Holtz’s first tasks will be finding a permanent name for the project. She said its target demographic was ages 12-35.

Holtz, a Philadelphia-based lawyer and an entrepreneur who once owned the Party City chain of party goods, said she would focus first on partnerships with established programs in five areas: camping, schools, campuses, careers, volunteer programs and teen travel to Israel.

“It’s about Jewish identity, developing Jewish identity,” she said. “I think Israel programs and Jewish identity programs go together.”

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