As I write this, at 36,000 feet somewhere over Greenland, it has just turned 2010 (actually, this is my second New Year of the night; I celebrated the first some hours ago, sitting in the terminal at Ben Gurion Airport). I spent the last week of 2009 on my first working visit to Israel as NIF's new CEO. I return to the States exhausted, but also renewed. And as we say goodbye to a dark decade, I am more convinced than ever that the work that NIF does on the ground in Israel is critical to ensuring that the lights of democracy, equality and, perhaps most importantly, hope continue shine in 2010, and for the next ten years.
Daniel Sokatch, NIF CEO
Across Israel, NIF and its family of organizations are advocating, organizing and educating to improve lives, build community and pursue justice and equality for all Israelis, and for all those who live under Israeli jurisdiction.
I saw this first hand last week. Here are just a few highlights:
In a conference room in Be'er Sheva, I spoke with leaders of a dozen organizations receiving capacity building assistance from SHATIL("seedling"), NIF's action-arm in Israel. One by one, representatives from organizations working on behalf of Bedouin women, Ethiopian-Israelis youth-at-risk, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, environmental justice and the working poor told me of the ways in which NIF supports them, connects them to one another and strengthens the field. Together, they say, we are building a better, fairer Negev for all who live there.
In the center of the country, NIF and its grantees are working to desegregate Jerusalem city buses in which women are forced, by ultra-Orthodox pressure groups, to sit in the back (to learn how you can help say "No to the Back of the Bus," click here). And we are helping to ensure that a growing "liberal orthodox" voice is heard, loud and clear, at the kotel (Western Wall), in the streets, and in the corridors of power.
In Haifa and throughout the north, the NIF family works to create a shared society, one in which Jews and Arabs coexist as Israelis with an equal and shared stake in the future of the country. I listen as an NIF employee describes the way that her neighborhood in the traditionally Arab part of Haifa is becoming a reflection of NIF's goal of transforming Haifa into a "Model City of Joint Living."
But the most powerful experiences are often the most unexpected. In a taxi in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian cab driver makes small talk. He asks me where I'm from and what I do. He asks me the name of my organization. I tell him, and he practically shouts out, "You helped me! You helped me!" He explains that his East Jerusalem home had been slated for demolition, but that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), our flagship grantee, had gotten the order reversed. He knew all about NIF's role in supporting ACRI and other civil and human rights groups. I was humbled, moved and very proud.
And so should you be. Because we are part of the NIF community, and we know that it is not enough to hope that this year will be better than the last. We know that it is up to us to make it so. And that is exactly what we are going to do in 2010. Together, Israelis, Americans and Europeans, Jews, Muslims and Christians, we will work to build the Israel that we know can be. Happy New Year.