Anyone who paid attention to the social justice protests of 2011 in Israel knows that the country we once envisioned as egalitarian and just has trouble living up to its original ideals.
But if you are as committed to Israel as we at the New Israel Fund of Canada are, that simply gets you to the next step – doing something about it.
Fortunately, much is being done about Israel’s social justice issues, and the civil society we support is leading the way.
For example, to help cultivate new leaders in the next generation, BINA, a secular yeshiva in Israel, fosters national leadership among young Israelis through the application of Jewish texts to real-world social issues.
Students participate in year-long programs during and between their military service injecting national responsibility for social issues into Israeli discourse using a pluralistic, tolerant approach based on the best Jewish values. The New Israel Fund of Canada supports this initiative by BINA.
To strengthen Israel’s civil society, SHATIL, the New Israel Fund’s action arm, trains nascent non-profit organizations in the business of running themselves. Across the country, SHATIL strengthens organizations from their inception at the grassroots level to govern themselves, fundraise, keep to a budget and grow. The New Israel Fund of Canada supports SHATIL.
Working with communities to break the cycle of poverty, Mahapach-Taghir offers financial aid to university students from Israel’s most marginalized communities. In return, those students tutor neighbourhood kids and conduct workshops on women’s rights and healthy living for adults, thereby introducing the benefits of higher education and public health back into their villages. The New Israel Fund of Canada supports this initiative as well.
It’s been widely reported by scholars and sociologists, pulpit rabbis and our own children that the tie to Israel may be more tenuous for the next generations of North American Jews.
That’s why North American Jews are poorly served by the vision of a romanticized Israel and by an absence of discussion of real Israeli life and challenges. For secular Jews, Israel is not primarily the nation given to us at Mount Sinai, but the living embodiment of an ancient people challenged to create a modern, tolerant and just society.
Young North American Jews want their own authentic connection to Israel, separate from their parents and grandparents. They want to grapple with a “real Israel” whose imperfections give way to a personal invitation for tikkun olam.
That’s why the New Israel Fund of Canada works hard to ensure that the next generations of Canadian Jews will take up Israel’s cause and leave their own mark on an Israel that needs them.
We don’t agree that younger generations will reject Israel if it’s portrayed critically within the context of an abiding commitment to its strength and survival. Instead, they will do the opposite – they will find a personal connection and a reason to commit to an Israel not of the past, but of the future.
Orit Sarfaty is executive director of the New Israel Fund of Canada.