Photo Credit:
Sheldon Adelson

The so-called alphabet soup of American Jewish organizations covers seemingly every communal concern and interest group. Yet despite their direct connection with the Jewish homeland and firsthand knowledge of issues prioritized by American Jews, Israelis living in the United States have historically been both neglected and unorganized.

But the fast-growing Israeli-American Council (IAC), which was founded in Los Angeles in 2007 and started expanding nationally in 2013, is working to change that. This year, IAC’s own programming has reached more than 100,000 of the estimated 500,000-800,000 Israeli Americans, and another 50,000 Israeli Americans have participated in programs sponsored by IAC.


IAC’s stated mission is “to build an active and giving Israeli-American community throughout the United States in order to strengthen the state of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community.”

Its growth plan since last year has been twofold: First, to open regional offices in areas with large Israeli American populations (recently launched offices include Boston, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Las Vegas, on top of the initial Los Angeles office). Second, in areas not served by its regional offices, IAC sponsors programming in places like Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Dallas.

From Nov. 7-9, IAC will hold its inaugural national conference, “The Israeli-American Community: A Strategic Asset for Our Future,” in Washington, DC.

“[IAC is] a welcome and important development,” Brandeis University professor Dr. Jonathan Sarna, a leading expert on American Jewish history, told JNS. “We’ve seen a similar effort on the part of Jews from the former Soviet Union, where there have been organizations like the Genesis Philanthropy Group that seek to work with Russian-speaking Jews to preserve culture and to really allow them to preserve their identity going forward.”

“For a long time, Sarna explained, “Israelis in the United States did not similarly organize…and the reason was that whereas the other immigrants had left countries where Jews were persecuted and the Jews had no intention of returning to those countries, Israelis often argued that they were here only for a short time, that they hoped to return, and they did not organize in this way.”

So what’s changed?

“With Israel under attack, from BDS and the like, it’s easy to understand why those American Jews who have roots in Israel and know it best feel that they want to organize, in part in order to defend it, in part in order to promote their own identity as Israeli Americans,” said Sarna.

Adam Milstein, one of IAC’s founders and president of The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, agrees.

“I think the Israeli people are best equipped to communicate the truth about Israel, because they are not naive like many in the American Jewish community,” Milstein told JNS. “They know the Israeli people, they know that we have very high standards of human rights and freedom, they know the propaganda war of Hamas and Iran.”

IAC-affiliated programming connects with Israeli Americans at all phases of the lifecycle. Sifriyat Pijama B’America – the mirror image of Jewish philanthropist Harold Grinspoon’s PJ Library – sends free Hebrew-language books on a monthly basis to Hebrew-literate families across the U.S. Sifriyat Pijama will reach 15,000 families this year, according to Milstein, who explained that the goal is ensuring that the Hebrew language is spoken at home, as well as partnering with schools, JCCs, and synagogues in order to introduce Israelis to American Jewish life.

At the college level, IAC’s Mishelanu (meaning “of ours”) program serves Israeli students at 33 schools who are not fully comfortable with the programming of other campus groups. IAC also supports the Tzofim (Israel Scouts) youth movement, which offers programs for ages 10-18. For all ages, IAC runs the “Celebrate Israel Festival” to mark Israeli Independence Day in all of its regions. The 2014 Celebrate Israel Festival in Los Angeles drew 15,000 attendees.


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