SA man set Jewish Agency on the right path

  • alan hoffman
South African-born Alan Hoffmann, the longstanding CEO and director-general of the Jewish Agency, has recently announced he will be stepping down by the end of this year.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Apr 19, 2018

This week, as Israel celebrates 70 years of independence, the SA Jewish Report caught up with him as he reflected on his life’s journey – one that has been dedicated to the State of Israel, a country he loves.

Hoffmann was one of those South African Zionists who responded to the call for help in 1967, when the then head of the Jewish Agency, Louis Pincus, asked for volunteers to help in the unattended fields of the holy land.

He got on the plane as a heady 20-something Joburg boytjie, keen to step up to the plate.

Since those first intoxicating years in the embattled Jewish homeland, Hoffmann has spent his entire career devoted to its upliftment.

Hoffmann is the first immigrant to hold such a high position at the Jewish Agency. Throughout his life, he has been involved in Jewish education and Jewish communal life.

Born in Johannesburg, he grew up in Parktown. He was active in Habonim and soon became the youth movement’s national secretary-general.

In Israel, he became the director of the Young Judaea Year Course programme for matriculants taking a gap year in Israel. He then spent a few years studying at Harvard Graduate School of Education in the US.

Before joining the Jewish Agency in 2000 as director of its education department, he headed various Jewish educational programmes. Among other positions, Hoffmann served as director of the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and as executive director of the Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education in New York.

Under his leadership at the Jewish Agency, the education department developed ground-breaking initiatives such as as Masa Israel Journey (providing immersive Israel experiences for 18- to 30-year-olds) and the Makom Israel Education Lab, which provides education and knowledge about Israel, in Israel, to activists, educators, community leaders, rabbis and others.

Hoffmann assumed the position of CEO and director-general of the Jewish Agency in March 2010.

“I’ve had the most interesting and exciting job in Jewish life,” he said.

He is no stranger to Israel’s innumerable trials and tribulations, and has a nuanced understanding of the country’s many weaknesses and strengths.

One of his highlights at the Jewish Agency has been working with famed human rights activist Natan Sharansky, chair of the Jewish Agency. Together the two led the strategic refocusing of the agency’s work.

The Jewish Agency works to secure the Jewish future, explained Hoffmann, by building meaningful connections between Israelis and Jews all over the world – “bringing Jews to Israel and Israel to Jewish communities, helping vulnerable Israelis, and enabling Jews to make aliyah”.

Aside from major military campaigns having been waged during his tenure, one of the biggest challenges he has faced has been managing the steady influx of French Jewry making aliyah in recent years. This, he said, had “transformed the State of Israel”.

“This involved the creation of massive infrastructure for not only the 35 000 French Jews, but also for the thousands of others who have opened files [starting the process towards aliyah],” he said.

“These have been exciting and very meaningful years for me,” Hoffmann wrote in his letter of resignation to Sharansky. “I have seen the agency adapt itself to some of the more important changes which have shaped the face of Jewish life and Israel in these almost two decades.

“We have helped refocus the mission, restructure the organisation and recruit outstanding staff, while working closely with our constituent partners and with the government of Israel. Aliyah has grown, shlichut [emissaries sent worldwide] has exploded and Masa was created in this period,” he continued.

“The connection of young Israelis to the Jewish people has emerged as a new priority, and the agency has significantly expanded its repertoire in partnerships and in working with the vulnerable in Israel.”

He firmly believes the Jewish Agency builds a better society in Israel and beyond “by energising young Israelis and their worldwide peers to rediscover a collective sense of Jewish purpose”.

“The Jewish Agency has brought four million Jews to Israel; an extraordinary number,” he said with pride.

It continues to be the Jewish world’s first responder, prepared to address emergencies in Israel and to rescue Jews from countries where they are at risk.

He was proud to say the Jewish Agency had become “younger, slimmer and nimbler” in recent years.

Aliyah from South Africa has been steadily increasing and, for the first time, Israel has become the top destination for Jewish emigrants from South Africa, he said.

“In 2016, the Jewish Agency opened a Project TEN Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, bringing young Jewish people from Israel and around the world to volunteer with local children in the fields of informal education, sustainable agriculture and public health,” he said.

“Even though I left South Africa a long time ago, I still feel very connected to the country. The deep Zionist roots I developed growing up in South Africa have stood me in good stead in my career.”

After nine years at the helm, Hoffmann looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Nadia, and their family. The couple have four children and six grandchildren all living in Israel.

He will no doubt continue his efforts to contribute to the ever-unfolding Jewish story.


  1. RadEditor - HTML WYSIWYG Editor. MS Word-like content editing experience thanks to a rich set of formatting tools, dropdowns, dialogs, system modules and built-in spell-check.
    RadEditor's components - toolbar, content area, modes and modules
    Toolbar's wrapper 
    Content area wrapper
    RadEditor's bottom area: Design, Html and Preview modes, Statistics module and resize handle.
    It contains RadEditor's Modes/views (HTML, Design and Preview), Statistics and Resizer
    Editor Mode buttonsStatistics moduleEditor resizer
    RadEditor's Modules - special tools used to provide extra information such as Tag Inspector, Real Time HTML Viewer, Tag Properties and other.


Follow us on