Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, hundreds of NIF supporters gathered in San Francisco for our annual Guardian of Democracy Dinner. In the spirit of the High Holidays, as we reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to the coming one, I want to offer to you excerpts from my remarks from that night.
In it, I explain why I believe that – as challenging as the political context for our work is – we have reason for hope:
It’s been a tough summer.
Actually, it’s been a tough nine months.
Well, really, it’s been a tough eight years or so.
But the truth is, NIF is built for tough times. It’s why we’re here. It’s what we do.
Just a week and a half ago I was in Israel, working with our brand new Executive Director there, Mickey Gitzin. Mickey is 36, the son of Russian immigrants, a leader in the movement to break the ultra-Orthodox religious monopoly on life in Israel, an activist in the LGBTQ community, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council and, most importantly, a pragmatic, strategic and cheerful optimist. He isn’t cowed by the lack of vision and terrible policies of the current leadership in Israel – or, for that matter, here in the US – and neither should we be. He remains utterly confident that, at the end of the day, NIF will help lead Israel back to the democratic and prophetic values upon which it was founded.
He is the face of our Israel, and the reason why none of us has the time for the deceptive luxury of despair.
I got back home from Israel feeling inspired and energized.
And there is one person in particular I wish I could tell that to tonight. I miss my friend Bill Goldman. Bill knew about difficult times. He thought about them a lot, and he reminded us how we have to respond to them. In January, he wrote this:
“Now is our moment, to demonstrate the courage of our convictions, to push back constantly against the waves of darkness, to prove over and over that the world is better than this. It will not be fun. It will not be easy. But it will be done. Let us escape from our complacent lives, let us overcome our fear and terror. Let us give our lives a lasting meaning beyond what we believed possible.”
We will honor Bill’s life by building a fitting tribute to him here at NIF; a way of recognizing those who have the courage to stand up and speak out about the hard things that matter – people willing to speak truth to power during difficult times.
And we will also continue to honor Bill every day, by rolling up our sleeves and working to build that better world about which he spoke so beautifully.
This is exactly what NIF exists to do in Israel. Here are just a few example of what that means, what we, together, have accomplished:
- Israel’s equivalent of the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed thanks to the advocacy of NIF grantee Bizchut.
- NIF grantee Adalah’s legal advocacy compelled the government to connect Bedouin schools in the Negev to the electrical grid after 40 years.
- The government passed Resolution 922 which will close funding disparities that disadvantage Palestinian citizens of Israel, thanks in large part to the advocacy of NIF grantee Sikkuy.
- Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled against the use of torture on detainees. The case was litigated by NIF grantee the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel together with NIF grantee HaMoked and NIF’s flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
- NIF’s own Shatil-led Arab-Jewish Citizens Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee succeeded in establishing a radiotherapy center in Tzfat – the first in the underserved North.
And we continue to support those Israeli human rights organizations doing some of the hardest, least popular and bravest work of all: holding a mirror up to Israeli society and asking, after 50 years of occupation, is this who we want to be?
We don’t do this work alone, and our partners in Israel don’t do this work alone. We rely on you. You are our engine of support and solidarity. We need gatherings like this one, times to come together to honor our colleagues and to celebrate our successes. This is especially true during these difficult times for our community, for our country and for the Israel we love.
As we enter this new year, it does not seem that the tough times – here at home, or there in Israel – are going to end any time soon. But I can tell you that the New Israel Fund, from the communities of supporters around the world, to our staff and partners in Israel, will continue to effectively advocate for the values in which we believe, and for which we stand. That is our New Year’s resolution.