The Best of Israel

16 December 2019
By: Judy Robkin

Judy Robkin delivered this speech after receiving the NIF Tzedek Award on December 8, 2019.

Six weeks ago, our daughter and son-in-law blessed us with our 8th grandchild, Meitav Sela. At his bris his parents thoughtfully explained the various meanings of the baby’s name. They referenced water and goodness and Moshe and many other meaningful symbols, but as they explained, the name Meitav literally means – “the best of”. I see this name choice, like I see the New Israel Fund, as a challenge to look past what is wrong and instead ask what is right in our world; to be optimistic when pessimism is so much easier, to work together to leave this world a better world. Where Israel is often seen as a dirty word and people are quick to criticize it or even dismiss it altogether, when others tell me why they can no longer justify supporting Israel, I can honestly point to NIF and say, look at these exceptional initiatives. Isn’t this literally “the best of” Israel?

NIF introduced Shai and me to many of its beneficiaries around the country, allowing us a firsthand glimpse into the powerful work NIF does on a daily basis.

I can say that I have seen the work that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) does to ensure a civil society by protecting the human rights and civil liberties of all its people.

I enjoyed the warm hospitality and a hot meal in a soup kitchen in Beer Sheva where people gather not only for the food but for the camaraderie and support provided by such a place.

I spent a day at Givat Haviva whose mission is to build an inclusive society by engaging Arabs and Jews in collective action towards the advancement of a sustainable, thriving Israeli democracy based on mutual responsibility, civic equality and a shared vision of the future.

I shopped at Achoti, a Mizrachi, Ethiopian and Palestinian Feminist Fair Trade store in the middle of Tel Aviv that encourages local women to produce goods and sell them for fair prices, while simultaneously empowering these women to become activists in their neighborhoods and city.

I walked around South Tel Aviv with the leaders of a group helping African Refugees in their struggles to live and work in Israel.

I watched as Ethiopian elders taught their children how to grow traditional Ethiopian vegetables in the community garden in Be’er Sheva, thus restoring their position as honored elders in their community.

I davened at my Conservative Synagogue in Jerusalem which promotes religious pluralism and a democratic vision of Jewish life.

I have traveled down to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies which brings together Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian students, as well as other students from around the world in the shared goal of improving the environment.

I have seen Bedouin women creating rugs and weavings from handspun wool, a project that preserves the crafts of an ancient culture, and also enables families to enter the world of modern education and opportunities.

From NIF and its grantees, I have seen the best of people and organizations who are empowered by the New Israel Fund to work towards building a better society.

Shai and I lived in Israel for 8 wonderful years; we owned a business in Jerusalem, had two of our three children at Hadassah Hospital, both Shai and our son Ayal served in the IDF, we proudly own an apartment in Jerusalem and hold Israeli passports, so when I speak, I do so as both an American and an Israeli. And as such, I am proud to say that through the incredible work of NIF, I am personally participating in, supporting and encouraging these and hundreds of other organizations working towards a more civil society. I am seeing the best of, working towards the best of and leaving this world with the best of Israel for our newest grandson, Meitav, our other 7 grandchildren, and hopefully, all of your children and grandchildren as well.