For the New Year — Reflections, Expectations, Hopes

2 September 2021

In the Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana is the “head” of the year, a time when we consider what has been, and what will be. A moment to take stock — of our aspirations, more immediate goals, relationships, and strategies. In these moments we acknowledge and reflect on the challenges we have faced and will continue to face — a resurgent pandemic, climate change, and the political disarray that attends to them — while also recognizing the potential and promise that such times can offer.

NIF is built for times like these. Uncertainty breeds fear, but it also demands hope.

In Israel, so much uncertainty hinges on the eight partner parties that make up its new coalition government. It is a strange moment in Israel’s political history when people who explicitly share NIF’s values and vision and people who adamantly oppose them both sit in high office. But it is a moment that we in the progressive civil society will not squander.

Now is the time for civil society to learn how to not just get, but keep, the ear of policymakers.

For NIF, and our action arm Shatil, this means not only reaching out to friendly policy makers — officials who, for the first time in years, hold high office — but also working with the civil servants who support them. These are the professional administrators who are often the ones to set ministry practices, protocols, and norms. And civil servants, the people who make government run, often transcend and outlast particular administrations. Civil society, with NIF’s support, is seizing on what may well be a brief opportunity to learn how to work effectively with these professionals and develop lasting relationships. There is already a great deal of cooperation on the issues we care about: Arab-Jewish partnership, housing, health, transportation, and social welfare.

While improving progressive civil society’s ability to work effectively within the halls of power is one of the strategies we will pursue in the New Year, it is not the only one. We will also rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring that the most vulnerable are not left behind as the pandemic continues. We will not stop supporting organizations working to expose the occupation’s injustices and cruelties.

And we will continue to insist that the only path toward a secure democratic future for Israel is one paved by equality, Arab-Jewish partnership, and shared society for all.

I cannot say it strongly enough: the only democratic future for Israel is a shared future. In Israel, Rosh Hashana also marks the start of the school year. This week, the director of NIF grantee Givat Haviva (and the beloved former director of Shatil’s Center for Policy Change) Michal Sella wrote in Israel’s most-read news site, Ynet, that 99.6% of students entering first grade this year will not meet a student who is not like them (whether Jewish or Arab) in their next 12 years of schooling. In other words, by the time they graduate high school, the overwhelming majority of Jewish students will only have met Jews, and Arab students will only know Arabs. To make matters worse, Michal cited a Comptroller’s Report from last May that showed how the Israeli government has systematically abandoned anti-racism and coexistence education.

She drew a direct line from this neglect to the violent events of May this year when neighbors turned against one another and Israel teetered on the brink of civil conflict along ethnic lines.

But Michal suggests a path forward: The Ministry of Education, she writes, can build and fund a program for joint education and a curriculum aimed at uprooting racism and racist violence. Programs that introduce Arab and Jewish teachers and students to each other are another way to reduce fear and take steps towards a truly shared society. Perhaps most critical of all, the Ministry of Education could put more emphasis on language education so that Israeli Jews know how to say more than just “give me your ID card” in Arabic.

Michal’s organization, Givat Haviva – the Center for Shared Society, supports the kinds of local, holistic programs that she describes in her piece. Givat Haviva links Jewish and Arab communities from Israel’s Triangle region on all levels. And their mission — to build inclusive, socially cohesive society by engaging divided communities in collective action — is one that I want to offer as an example and a blessing for all of us in the year to come.

May we look forward to a more perfect union here in the United States, and a more democratic, responsible, equitable and shared state of Israel. And may 5782 be a sweet, peaceful, just, and healthy year for us all. Shana Tova.