Last Sunday night, at the Port of Tel Aviv on the eve of our winter Board meeting, NIF celebrated our community of change-makers. Hundreds of social justice organizers, activists and advocates schmoozed, ate, drank, danced and honored their colleagues and comrades. It was one of those moments when you can really see, all around you, the incredible progressive civil society sector that works tirelessly to build an Israel we can believe in. The festivities have become an annual tradition, a great way to recharge our collective battery, celebrate our victories, and recommit ourselves to succeeding where we've fallen short. It was a great way to kick off our week of Board meetings.
As I was leaving the event, a dignified older Israeli gentleman approached me. He introduced himself and his family, and said that they were all big supporters of NIF. I thanked him, and then, in classic Israeli style, he told me that he had a problem with me, specifically with these columns I write. "You’re too cheerful, too optimistic," he said. "The situation here is terrible."
Well, fair enough. It's not the first time I've been accused of an excess of optimism (although I get accused of the opposite as well). And it's true that these days, in Israel, it can sometimes seem like we are taking two steps back for every step towards social justice that we take. It can seem that way from here as well. But I’ve always been a Heschelian kind of Jew, and Heschel wrote of the "defiance of despair." For me, nothing defies despair and reinforces the power and potential of the NIF community of organizations and activists like spending time with them on the ground in Israel.
That night at the Port of Tel Aviv we honored activists who stared down SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suits by extremist organizations trying to chill free speech. We celebrated organizations working to ensure that African refugees seeking asylum in Israel get a fair hearing, one in line not only with democratic norms but also the best of Jewish values. And we cheered leaders fighting for the human and civil rights of all Israelis, and for those living under Israeli control.
Later that week, the NIF Board made a series of decisions that, I believe, will dramatically enhance our ability to bring about the kind of positive change we long to see in Israel. I'll write more about that in the coming weeks. For now, though, I take comfort and inspiration in the community of conscience that you and I are privileged to be a part of. And yes, sometimes "the situation here is terrible." But the situation here is also sometimes beautiful. And always worth fighting for.