Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs, along with a crowd of several dozen students and Jewish campus leaders, were hosted on Monday by Chabad on Campus International at Chabad House Bowery to discuss Mosaic United, a new initiative spearheaded by Bennett’s ministry that brings together the leading campus Jewish organizations to strengthen Jewish identity and support for Israel among college students around the world.

Representing those organizations was Rabbi Yossy Gordon, executive vice president of Chabad on Campus International; Rabbi Avi Weinstein, director of administration at Chabad on Campus International; Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International; Rabbi Avi Cassel, regional director of Olami; and Amy Holtz, CEO of Mosaic United.

“My mission in life is to strengthen Jewish identity in Israel and abroad,” Bennett told the crowd. “I feel a sense of urgency—the government of Israel and the people of Israel are no longer coming here asking for donations; we are doing the opposite. We are using taxpayer money to invest in the future of the Jewish people. The only thing is, we don’t know how. We’re not experts on American Jewry. So we founded a startup, Mosaic United, and we brought in an amazing CEO. We’ve got the money, we’ve got the leadership; now the question is how to get unaffiliated Jews involved,” he continued.

During his Nov. 21 talk, Bennett highlighted how impressed he was by the unity between the various organizations partnering with Mosaic United. He then shared a personal anecdote of how his wife was brought closer to Judaism through the outreach of George Rohr, chairman of the International Advisory Board of Chabad on Campus International.

“My wife grew up in Israel as secular. I was religious, she was not, and we decided to marry,” explained Bennett. “I wanted to bring her closer to Judaism. When we moved to New York, we saw a flyer for a ‘Beginner’s Minyan.’ We met a nice guy, probably a teacher [we thought], named George, who spoke about the prayers and the weekly portion, and my wife loved it! We ended up going to the ‘Beginner’s Minyan’ for five years—that’s where my wife grew closer to Judaism. Only later did we realize that George was a world-renowned philanthropist!”

Some of the student and institutional leaders at the event.
Some of the student and institutional leaders at the event.

Opportunities and Challenges on Campus

After his initial remarks, the minister opened the floor to questions from the students. He listened attentively and engaged in dynamic discussion as the students talked about Jewish life on American campuses, describing both the amazing opportunities and the significant challenges.

“Having such active student leaders hold a passionate discussion with Minister Bennett about how to further engage Jewish students on campus with Judaism and Israel was truly remarkable, and a clear testament to the importance of the Mosaic United project,” said Weinstein of Chabad on Campus International.

A select Israeli government delegation, which included members of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs Hagay Elitzur, Rony Zaboroff and Michal Mastey, joined by Director of Campus Engagement for Mosaic United Jennifer Wilner, started their campus tour at Chabad serving Columbia University, where they shared lunch with emissaries Rabbi Yona and Keren Blum and students. They continued to Chabad serving Queens College and met with emissaries Rabbi Shaul and Tzipah Wertheimer, in addition to leaders of the student board. The gathering at Chabad House Bowery—a center led by Rabbi Dov Yona and Sarah Korn—was the last stop of the day, attended by Minister Bennett and Director-General Dvir Kahana.

Student and organizational leaders discussed the project with Bennett.
Student and organizational leaders discussed the project with Bennett.

“We are honored to partner with Mosaic United to strengthen Jewish identity, unity and love for Israel,” stated Gordon of Chabad on Campus International. “Chabad seeks to ensure that students graduate are stronger and more empowered Jews than when they entered, so it is a natural fit.”

Gordon conveyed the importance of this partnership in his welcoming comments: “There is so much that we all agree on, and the No. 1 shared viewpoint is that we believe you [the students] are the ones who will secure the future of the Jewish people—Am Yisrael chai!

Mosaic United, formerly the Israel-Diaspora initiative, seeks to fuel, scale and connect the most impactful innovators, programs and philanthropists in the Jewish world to help strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora. A key focus of its mission is strengthening Jewish identity and unity among Jewish youth on college campuses, the first point at which many young Jews carve their beliefs and character with the autonomy of living independently. To this end, they have made a significant commitment to Chabad on Campus International, Hillel International and Olami.