OIBA members were treated to a special encounter in June when Natan Sharansky made his first ever visit to Portland. Sharansky, the Soviet refusenik turned Israeli member of Knesset, now heads the Jewish Agency. Sharansky was in town for a speaking event with the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, and made a special request to meet with members of the Oregon-Israel business community.
The famed human rights leader and founder of the refusenik movement shared details of his life, noting with humor that his time in politics was more painful than his years in Soviet prisons. Sharansky detailed plans at the Jewish Agency to build on the success of programs such as Birthright in bringing Israel and Diaspora Jews closer together. These may focus on Israel’s booming economy, offering opportunities such as internships with Israel tech companies.
Sharansky noted that the nature of the Zionist mission has changed with time, and that Israel no longer expects the in-migration of all Jews to Israel. While there will always be a role for the Agency in addressing the urgent needs of Jews in such places as Iran and Venezuela, Sharansky also endeavors to build closer ties with groups such as OIBA supporting relationships between Israel and Israeli companies and a broad network around the world.