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Federation makes ‘BIG’ Israeli goods promotion
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Federation makes ‘BIG’ Israeli goods promotion

Princeton effort could serve as ‘national model’

A campaign to encourage merchants and shoppers in Bucks and Mercer counties to buy and sell goods made in Israel has received a “BIG” boost via a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America.

The $7,000 award to the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks is helping to fund a program called Buy Israeli Goods.

Since November, BIG has enlisted social media as well as teenage volunteers, who walk door-to-door urging local shop owners to stock and promote products made in Israel.

The BIG program and 22 other local efforts were awarded grants for JFNA’s Israel Action Network. They are aimed at counteracting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns that are “assaults on Israel’s legitimacy,” said IAN associate managing director Julie Bernstein.

“Our program is a triple-win situation,” said Michael Feldstein of Princeton, vice president for Israel and Overseas at the PMB federation.

The federation’s catchment area represents “over 5,000 households, and we like to buy Israeli products when possible, and we like to support our local merchants. So we are telling them, ‘When you have Israeli products, please let us know.”

When that information is received, “we are going to blast it out to our whole community,’” Feldstein told NJ Jewish News in a Jan. 30 phone interview.

In addition to using Facebook and Twitter, the federation sent 20 teams of teenage synagogue members to visit retail stores in their areas, offering owners free promotion for their sales of Israeli products.

“We will expect our efforts to become very viral in nature,” said Paula Joffe, director of major gifts at the federation. “It will allow us to introduce Israel and the Jewish community to our non-Jewish neighbors and friends in ways they are unaccustomed to hearing about.”

The campaign, she said, “gives us a positive light with the commercial successes that Israeli goods make to their stores. There is nothing negative about it.”

Grant-makers at the Israel Action Network agreed.

“The grant to the Princeton federation could serve as a national model,” Bernstein said. “It is about giving the Jewish community a better way of understanding how to work with the outside. We need to work with the outside, and we need to teach ourselves how to do that.”

The IAN awarded PMB the full amount it requested, even as it made partial awards to 21 other proposals from Jewish organizations across the country

Among the others was one to United Jewish Communities of MetroWest to inject a pro-Israel message in its annual Labor Seder, which brings together trade union members and Jewish community leaders at a Passover celebration.

Another grant was awarded to help establish a partnership between the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations and Rutgers Hillel to develop an undergraduate course at the university on pluralism in the Middle East.

“My goal is to also have them partner with the university, because it is important that the course be perceived as an academic offering,” said Bernstein. “It should highlight Israel’s tolerance without necessarily undermining other countries in the area.”

The grants are for one year, but recipients are encouraged to reapply next year and again in 2014.

While emphasizing that the IAN is not “ignoring the conflict” in the Middle East, Bernstein said, “We need to talk about Israel in a positive light.”

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