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Building a Better Israel One Activist at a Time

Below are some short portraits of activists who were trained by SHATIL, NIF's action arm – and how their SHATIL training enabled them to work on some of Israel's most difficult social issues.

Yossi Fitoussi and Zouheir Bahloul

A veteran resident of the mixed city of Akko, Yossi Fitoussi watched sadly as more and more Jewish friends left the city.  "I felt that if Jews and Arabs were to sit together, attitudes would change and people wouldn't leave," says the former community center director and co-founder of the Akko Theater Festival.  Meanwhile, after Arab-Jewish violence erupted in Akko on Yom Kippur 2008, SHATIL approached Yossi's neighbor, Zouheir Bahloul, a well-known media personality, with the idea of starting just such a group.  "I understood the violence as arising from increasing pressure that just had to burst," says Zouheir, referring to the problems facing Israeli Arabs.  "It was in the aftermath of this crisis that we started our SHATIL-led Akko Group for Shared Living.  He admits that at first he harbored doubts about its potential for success.  Yossi added that through SHATIL's expertise in conflict management and facilitation, the group was able to thrive.  "Despite many challenges, we succeeded in writing a document elucidating our vision for a truly joint city and recruited the mayor to our cause.  He, in turn, connected us with directors of municipal departments, schools and community centers so we could promote our ideas throughout the city and bring everyone – native Israeli Jews and Arabs, immigrants from the Caucuses, Ethiopia and Russia – closer together.  We are getting people to think anew about shared life in this city."  Says Zouheir: "Without SHATIL, we wouldn't have started and we wouldn't be where we are today."

Yonatan Benarroch

As a youth in the religious Zionist B'nei Akiva youth movement, Yonatan Benarroch felt uncomfortable with the increasing extremism of Israel's religious community.  He connected with NTA Israel - Ne'emanei Torah V'Avoda, a movement that works toward a more open and humane Orthodoxy.  After Yitzhak Rabin's murder, he felt that the growing intolerance in the Orthodox community threatened the very fabric of Israeli society.  Yonatan became intensely involved in the shrinking liberal Orthodox movement and, with a small group of friends, helped to revive it.  Today, with Yonatan as its chair, NTA is involved in collaborations with Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and secular partners, and has worked on initiatives to create an international alternative religious court for conversions and the successful establishment of the first pluralistic cemetery in Jerusalem.  "SHATIL helped us breathe new life into the organization and to quadruple our resources and activities," says Yonatan, who is a doctoral candidate in Zohar at Hebrew University.  "Our three main objectives – to encourage critical public discourse among the Orthodox, to bring pluralistic values to religious education and to change the structure of religious services in Israel to reflect the community -- came about after many hours of work with SHATIL.  My work with other streams of Judaism is a result of SHATIL's influence.  SHATIL molded me into who I am today."

Safa Younes

During her maternity leave, Safa Younes, a social worker with a specialization in women's studies, decided to make her dream come true.  She took a deep breath, left her job as a probation officer and founded a women's center in her hometown of Jaffa.  "As a woman and resident of Jaffa, I felt we lacked a place that works to advance women's status', a place where women could gather, learn about their rights and about how to advance our community," she says.  Safa researched the work of other women's organizations and then turned to SHATIL.  "SHATIL encouraged me to believe in my vision and helped me understand the context in which I was working, as well as how to strategize and to develop clear goals and programs," she says.  Today, weekly lectures and discussions about issues such as violence against women and civil rights, monthly trips, economic empowerment initiatives,  and computer, English and literacy courses bring hundreds of women to the Bride of the Sea women's center.  Twelve women being trained in community empowerment launched a project to discourage early marriage and a collective is working on making and marketing handmade dolls.  Representatives of each of these projects think and strategize together about the future of the center – an idea Safa developed with SHATIL.

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$250 million to Israeli social change groups since 1979.