Annual Assessments

2020 Annual Assessment

Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People

Annual Assessment

תש”פ | 2020


Project Head

Shmuel Rosner


Avinoam Bar-Yosef, Dan Feferman, Shlomo Fischer, Avi Gil,
Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Gitit Levy-Paz, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, John Ruskay, Adar Schiber, Noah Slepkov, Shalom Salomon Wald


Barry Geltman
Rami Tal

2020 Annual Assessment

The Jewish people and its institutions are rich in resources, though these of course are not unlimited. In normal times, too, there is a constant “tug of war” out of the desire to advance different, sometimes competing agendas. In times of emergency, when the routine is broken, renewed thought is required about the priorities of the Jewish people as a whole, of its organizations and institutions, and of the funders that drive its activity. The crisis provides an opportunity to identify anew what is essential and what less essential. This reevaluation is critical in ensuring that depleted resources are not directed to areas that are not vital and allows for changes and reforms that would be more difficult to accomplish in more routine days. This chapter will cover the subject of economics only briefly, since this relates mostly to decisions taken on the explicitly professional level (deficits, interest rates, income support, etc.).


The allocation of economic resources occurs mainly through the government according to its priorities. In times of crisis, extra attention should be focused on these allocations to ensure they are directed to the most urgent purposes for the short and long term. Crisis also increases the need for public trust in the government and its priorities. When the public is asked to pay a price (in unemployment, taxation, cuts in assistance, etc.), its cooperation is conditioned, among other things, on accepting that the price is essential, and on the recognition that the required price results from constraints that are acceptable to all. The manner in which the current governing coalition was established, as well as its unprecedented size, has certainly eroded to some extent the required public trust in the efficiency of government institutions. But after more than a year of political crisis, the creation of the emergency unity government was also received with a degree of relief that balanced out the picture. In the end, the real test will be how effectively the institutions, ministries, and other bodies working on the government’s behalf function, and the results they achieve.

According to these principles, Israel must also assist all the world’s Jews. This assistance should be directed toward critical needs that can be explained to a public forced to pay the price (more on this below).


Organized Diaspora communities have four main goals in setting budgetary priorities in this time of crisis:

  1. To ensure that the community has the resources to maintain its main institutions so that they are able to recover after the crisis.
  2. To aid Jews in distress within the community, be they individuals or groups (e.g., retirement homes).
  3. To invest in activities arising from the crisis that have potential for future growth (e.g., Judaism online).
  4. To join, in the name of the Jewish community, in assisting the general community, whether for reasons of essence (Jewish values) or of image (to boost Jewish visibility as a force for good). This is the time to utilize cash reserves and community funds designated for emergencies.

To achieve these four goals and to safeguard the community’s future, the crisis should also be seen as an opportunity to refresh budget priorities, and to reevaluate institutions and organizations, the need for them and the significance of their activities. It is appropriate to ensure – even more than in normal times – that the natural impulse to protect the status quo, even when it has become outmoded and superfluous, does not deplete the community’s resources and leave it without sufficient means to maintain relevant future-securing activities. The move hinted at by the president of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, for an administrative union of America’s progressive Jewish movements (Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist) is an example of the kind of thinking required at such a time.3 Regardless of whether such a merger occurs or not, and without going into the specific question of its desirability, there is need for cross-cutting examinations of many other institutions and organizations and for raising clear-eyed questions about them.