It was amazing to be with so many of you this past Sunday for NIF’s first ever national and virtual Guardian of Democracy Gala.
In my remarks at the event, I recalled that this time three years ago I said to you that we were watching a rising tide of neo-authoritarianism around the world and that we would need to build the home base for Israel’s democratic pushback.
This past Sunday night, I was proud to say that the New Israel Fund and our grantees on the ground are at the forefront of that pushback, the vanguard of civil society’s fight for liberal democracy in Israel.
It was a powerful, poignant, and celebratory event. I was so moved to hear from incredible activists and changemakers, like my dear friend, Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List party and one of Israel’s most courageous champions of a truly shared society.
“We are the hope,” Ayman told us.
He reminded us that while hardline populists, from Jerusalem to Budapest to Washington, sharpen their autocratic rhetoric amidst a global pandemic, they cannot prevent us, the guardians of liberal values, from working together, from joining our struggles together – from winning together.
That is so true. That is what moved me so deeply about being together, even — and perhaps especially — virtually, in this precarious moment. Because ours is a community of hope, and it is impossible not to feel that when we are together.
We were uplifted by anthems of change from artists like Achinoam Nini and David Broza and Sha’anan Street.
We heard from tireless champions of justice like my dear friend and NIF Board member Yael Sternhell, who reminded us, as only a historian can, that even struggles that seem hopeless for decades can eventually carry the day.
We met the indefatigable Efrat Yerday, Chair of Israel’s Association for Ethiopian Jews and this year’s winner of the Gallanter Prize. Efrat shared with us her story and her dream about a future of an Israel which has a place for everyone — an Israel where all stories including hers – matter.
Together, we were over 1,200 supporters of democracy and equality in Israel – from all over the world. And together, with your incredible generosity, we raised over $900,000 to support our grantees working for justice and equality on the ground in Israel.
We are now approaching the beginning of Jewish High Holidays — Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, a time of new beginnings. These are days of awe, when Jews are called to attention by the blast of the shofar, the ram’s horn, to examine our own impact in this world. This is a moment when we ask ourselves whether we are living lives in accord with the world we seek to build together.
Fundamentally, Rosh Hashana it is a time when we take stock, recognizing that every action we take, large and small, matters. It’s a moment when we realize that even in these most daunting of times we have the choice — and the chance — to make things better.
So much hangs in the balance in our world today. So many lives have been lost or damaged in a global pandemic of catastrophic proportions. So many are struggling for equality, civil rights, and racial justice. So much of our beautiful planet is being scorched by the ravages of climate change, rendering our communities almost unlivable.
These are indeed difficult days.
But in these moments, I am inspired to be part of a community that is committed to healing what is broken, to protecting those who are vulnerable, to standing for equality for everyone.
The Jewish tradition teaches us that even in difficult times, we honor the sweetness of life. On Rosh Hashanah we eat apples and honey to celebrate that sweetness, and to remind us that, yes, things will be better.
So let me wish all who are celebrating this new year, a happy and sweet new year.
Here’s to new beginnings – and with new beginnings, hope.