Conducted by: Dr. Hagit Hacohen Wolf
Recent decades have witnessed a steady increase in the number of initiatives that enable Israeli influencers to participate in delegations to the US in order to increase their familiarity with American Jewry and to strengthen a consciousness of Jewish peoplehood. These delegations, in which hundreds participate every year, are a tool for harnessing these influencers to be active in Israeli society in strengthening the connection between Israeli Jews and those in the Diaspora.
In this context, the influencers are defined as those with prominent positions in a professional or social sphere and who can therefore influence wide circles of people.
The Jewish Federation of New York (UJA) has worked over the last two and a half years in the field of influencers’ delegations and has examined the components necessary to professionalize this area/field and to increase their effectiveness.
With Federation funding, the ‘belong’ organization, in conjunction with other parties, formulated a comprehensive report including recommendations for organizing and enhancing the delegations and for increasing their influence in three areas of activity:
- Effective methods for changing the participants’ perceptions and attitudes by enhancing knowledge, increasing emotional affinity, and motivating to action.
- Guiding principles to design and build the delegation’s visit in order to create an effective educational experience.
- Proposals to organize the field in general and to create possible avenues of influence in which delegation graduates can take part with the aim of acting in their sphere of influence to change attitudes and behaviors in Israeli society.
The Federation decided to examine the model that was developed by funding delegations of influencers with ‘belong’ leading the model’s assimilation in the delegations’ program. This process was undertaken via a strategic partnership between ‘belong’ and ‘Interwoven/שָׁזוּר’, [that was] established to develop infrastructures for this field (accompanying and guiding delegations, developing educational experiences etc.).
The entire process was accompanied by an evaluation research conducted by the Sapir Center that was intended to evaluate the influencers’ experience during their visit to the US and to examine its impact on them. As mentioned above, these influences are expected to serve as the basis for influencing wider circles of Israeli Jews’ perceptions of world Jewry.
The study process included the development of research tools with the participating organizations, and the gathering of data via questionnaires that were filled out twice (before and after the visit) by 63 participants from 5 delegations (department managers at local authorities, business people, and senior officials from the field of education).
The research findings relate to two aspects: the participants’ perceptions of different aspects of the delegation (outputs), and the effects of the delegation on them (outcomes).
The findings show that, by and large, the delegations achieve their objectives and that the experience left a strong impression on the participants, raise new insights, and change existing perceptions. Influencers from Israeli society are familiar and can connect to the story of American Jewry and are directed to motivate action in this area within their circles of influence.
For the delegations’ participants, the visit to the US Jewish communities, is an exceptional life experience. The most significant components of it are the inter-personal encounter and increased familiarity with Jewish life. Their main surprise is at the pluralistic nature and diversity of American Jewish identities and the understanding that Israel is perceived in a complex manner by American Jews that combines criticism and support and sympathy.
In addition, the findings show an increase in feelings of affinity and recognition of the importance of the relationship with American Jewry. There is also a clear increase in expansion of knowledge and familiarity with American Jewry and an enhanced understanding of the complexity of the issues with which American Jews are contending.
A differential effect was revealed on participants from different backgrounds, especially on issues related to pluralism and Israel’s place in American Jewish identity. This significant finding enables the formulation of more precise goals and the characterization of tailored educational activity in planning future delegations.
All participants reported an increased desire and intent to be involved in this area after their return to Israel and influence others, and a heightened interest in taking part in existing initiatives.
The research findings reinforce the need to continue the influencers’ delegations as a powerful tool in changing perceptions in Israeli society towards American Jewry. This is coupled with the need to adapt the nature of the experience to participants from different backgrounds and to continue developing the field, so that it supports their activity upon return to Israel.