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Before there was Birthright Israel, the most successful Jewish communal effort to increase Jewish identity among young people, there was The Israel Experience, a like-minded effort — and acknowledged failure.
Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Family Philanthropies, recalls that Charles Bronfman announced the launch of The Israel Experience in 1992, amid great fanfare, at the major annual convention of North American Jewish federations.
When Charles and Andrea Bronfman formed their sizeable philanthropic foundation 15 years ago, there were some who feared it would destroy the Jewish Agency for Israel by working outside the Jewish federation network.
Not long after the 92nd Street Y was rewired last year (a nearly $1 million job that involved threading fiber optic, copper wire and coaxial cables throughout the 11-story, 70-year-old building) Elie Wiesel delivered a lecture in the first-floor auditorium that was transmitted on closed circuit throughout the building.
Are well-known presidents of major Jewish organizations ever free to speak out as private citizens on controversial issues concerning Israel?
That was the question being debated this week after Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote to President George W. Bush expressing his views on the peace process. His letter was co-signed by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.
Bronfman and Eagleburger called on Bush to continue to "urge both sides to take the necessary steps to create stability and momentum in the peace process."