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  • Message from Daniel Sokatch

    06 April 2011

    Last week, we at New Israel Fund thought long and hard about the now-infamous flotilla action. Israel is in for hard times in the coming months and years. We all recognize frightening trends in Israel that threaten its future as a country that, as its founders' envisioned, is dedicated to being both Jewish and democratic. But that is a vision worth fighting for. Stay with us, and we'll stay with you. And, as always, thank you for your support.


  • Message from Daniel Sokatch and Rachel Liel

    06 April 2011

    "I know that there are those who have called you traitors for challenging Israeli policy ... As an American, I can only say this: If you are traitors, then Abraham Lincoln was a traitor…”
    Peter Beinart at the NIF Symposium on June 28, 2010.

    Two weeks ago, we had the privilege and pleasure of welcoming the New Israel Fund Board and International Council to Tel Aviv for NIF’s Board meeting. This was the first Board meeting in Israel for both of us in our new positions, and they came at a critical juncture not only for NIF, but for Israel itself, the US-Israel relationship and the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community. This context provided an opportunity for NIF and our family of organizations to host a series of events and activities that reminded all of us of why it is we fight so hard, every day, for the Israel we believe in.

    There is much more about our Board meeting in this edition of NIF News, but we want to tell you a bit more about one of the most exciting events, a symposium entitled, “Israel: the Only Democracy in the Middle East?” Held in Jaffa, the symposium featured leading Israeli academics, activists and artists in dialogue about the current threats to democracy in Israel, and the need to protect the values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The highlight of the conference was the keynote speech delivered by Peter Beinart, the former editor of the New Republic, whose groundbreaking essay about the American-Jewish relationship to Israel, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” has become the Jewish story of the year. Beinart’s full-throated and impassioned defense of NIF, our values and our sector, inspired the overflow crowd of over 500 attendees, and served as a reminder of why, especially now, NItweF’s work is so important.

    For a taste of that inspiration, you can watch the speech yourself. Finally, we leave you with what Beinart "tweeted" to his Twitter list last week: "Flying back from a trip to Israel sponsored by the amazing folks at New Israel Fund. If only they were the face that Israel showed the world." To that we can only say, Amen!

    P.S. An important reminder – if you haven’t yet contacted Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop Knesset passage of the Rotem bill, please do it now! Religious pluralism in Israel is at grave risk, and North American Jews are speaking out with one voice. Make sure yours is heard.

  • Message from Daniel Sokatch, NIF CEO

    06 April 2011

    As I write this, at 36,000 feet somewhere over Greenland, it has just turned 2010 . . . 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.


  • Message from Daniel Sokatch: Organize!

    06 April 2011

    On my wall hangs a poster divided into two panels.  In the first, a big fish, mouth open and teeth bared, chases a group of smaller fish, which desperately flee in all directions.  In the second, the tables have turned: the small fish have arranged themselves into an even bigger fish, made up of many parts, that now gives chase to the suddenly not-so-big fish.  The caption reads:  "Organize!"


  • Mixed Messages

    09 October 2013

    By Rachel Mann, October 2013

    I grew up with mixed messages. My parents encouraged me to succeed academically, and I always felt my prospects were limitless; when I grew up, I could be anything my brothers could be. With one exception. In our Conservative non-egalitarian synagogue, my brothers, once of age, could read Torah and lead tefilot and count in the minyan, and I could not. It was a jarring inconsistency in what was otherwise a thoroughly modern household.

    As a young adult, I had to find a way to reconcile my Jewish identity and my progressive feminist identity. Forsaking either one was never an option. For a time, I infrequently visited a synagogue. When my first child was born, it felt natural and necessary to join a spiritual community. It was finally my chance to choose the community that I wanted to be a part of; how lucky for me to live in New York City, where we joined a thriving intellectual, egalitarian, and socially progressive synagogue. Every time I listened to our talented woman cantor beautifully lead the tefilot, my Jewish identity and feminist identities were affirmed.

    I have three young daughters, and already their education has been different from mine. They expect equal opportunities for men and women, in both the religious and secular spheres. I look forward to celebrating my oldest’s bat mitzvah and watching her proudly read the Torah and don a talit. And I dream of a day when she will be able to practice Judaism as she sees fit, no matter where she is in the world; even at the Kotel.

    Rachel Mann is a blogger at No Turning Back:


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  • My Most Memorable Service

    24 October 2013

    By Robert Levy, October 2013

    [image - Robert Levy]

    It was on a trip to Australia in December with a group of friends. We were exactly 10 people, 5 men and 5 women. I had Yahrzeit for my father and I wanted to say Kaddish, so we needed a minyan of 10 worshipers. Jewish tradition asks for 10 men to create this special atmosphere which is deemed proper to recite the Kaddish. In the town where we were at the time there was no synagogue.

    We were all used to attending Orthodox services where women do not count for the minyan. We decided to disregard this restriction and count the women.

    Believe me, we all experienced this special, spiritual atmosphere created by 10 committed persons and this service turned out to be the most memorable one I ever attended.

    Robert Levy, age 69, resident of Zurich, Switzerland. Father of 2, grandfather of 8.


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  • Netanyahu's Fiscal Policies

    19 March 2012

    19 March 2012

    Our colleagues at the Adva Center prepared the following analysis of the Netanyahu government's follow up to the social justice protests as seen in its fiscal policies. A must read for anyone watching these issues.

    Click here for the PowerPoint.

  • No religion does not mean no nationality

    07 October 2011

    A single, equal nationality for all citizens, whatever their religion or lack thereof, as required by the Declaration of Independence and the laws of the state.

    The Jewish year 5772 began with grand tidings: The Tel Aviv District Court recognized author Yoram Kaniuk's right to be registered in the state population rolls as "without religion" rather than "Jewish." In his appeal petition, Kaniuk explained that he would prefer to have his nationality status registered as "Israeli," but that this is not yet possible since he cannot produce a certificate of conversion to another religion.

    Is something wrong with this picture? This confounds the most basic logic: If someone declares himself as being without religion, how can he be asked to prove his conversion to a different religion? Kaniuk, author of "1948," concluded that this important ruling means that he has no religion but is Jewish by nationality.

    Is this indeed the case? How and where is there a Jewish nation that is separate and distinguished from the Jewish religion? Israeli law defines a person as "Jewish" who has a Jewish mother and has no other religion. The condition - being born to a Jewish mother - is a condition set by Jewish law. In other words, the condition is religious in nature. The conclusion that the separation of religion and state has been achieved because an Israeli citizen whose mother was Jewish has been allowed to be classified as having no religion remains a fervent wish only.

    The enormous significance of Judge Gideon Ginat's decision, however, lies not in what it does not say, but rather in what it does say, and in its implications. Kaniuk declared that the court "granted legitimacy" to every person to live in accordance with their conscience. To be more precise, this right - not legitimacy - is the right of every person in Israel, by the force of the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, as the court made abundantly clear.

    That same Basic Law, however, has been brutally and consistently violated by the state since its establishment; all efforts to require the judicial system to enforce their compliance on state institutions (as in the issue of recognition of the Jewish nationality ) have failed, and they are passed from one court to another: from the Supreme Court to the District Court, from the District Court to the Supreme Court and back again.

    The Jerusalem District Court has ruled that the issue of recognizing "Israeli" as a nationality was nonjusticiable; the appeal of this ruling is still pending in the Supreme Court.

    Consequently, Ginat's ruling does not establish the existence of a Jewish nationality as distinct from the Jewish religion. Neither the law, nor simple logic, admits to any such separate existence. The implication of the recent ruling in Kaniuk's case is that any Israeli born to a Jewish mother who declares themselves to be religion-less is also classified as nationality-less.

    Is this outcome intolerable? Absolutely, unless and until the court orders the state's executive branch to recognize the existence of an Israeli nationality: a single, equal nationality for all citizens, whatever their religion or lack thereof, as required by the Declaration of Independence and the laws of the state.

    It should be noted that the state itself recognizes the Israeli nationality in a single document only: The Israeli passport. As the saying goes, be a man outside and a Jew at home. The enlightened view of Judaism does not distinguish between being a Jewish person and being a person.

    This article was first published in Ha'aretz. The writer, Yoella Har-Shefi, is an attorney and mediator.