Sometimes we find ourselves feeling hopeful at moments when we least expect it. Given the state of democracy in Israel right now, I did not expect the recent NIF youth study tour that I co-led last month to leave me feeling as confident and energized as it did.
Together with our global partners at NIF in Canada, the UK, and Australia, we ran the first Naomi Chazan Fellowship trip since the start of the pandemic. Over the course of eight days, 19 fellows and staff met with the full spectrum of NIF grantees, including Noa Sattath of ACRI, Achiya Schatz of FakeReporter, and Shula Keshet of Achoti.
We went on bus tours with former Lod city councilwoman and 2022 Gallanter Prize winner, Fida Shehadeh, Benzi Sanders of Breaking the Silence in Hebron and Masafer Yatta, as well as Shai Goren of Ir Amim. Though it wasn’t on the itinerary, we also participated in the first of what’s now been a series of mass protests against the legislative coup attempt by this new far-right government.
I knew in advance that we would hear about how NIF grantees are mobilizing against the authoritarians now in government, but, truthfully, I was blown away by what I learned.
In Ramle, we met with Arab and Jewish Israeli activists working with the Tzedek Centers, a group I completely fell in love with by the end of the session. As many of you know, a major cause of the far right’s success in the recent elections stems from the intercommunal violence of May 2021 in Israel’s so-called mixed cities. In response, but also as a part of their existing long-term strategy, the Tzedek Centers are doing the hard, necessary work of growing activist capacity and nurturing a culture of community organizing in small and mid-sized Israeli cities with large Arab populations.
For more from our NewGen community, read this blog post written by our DC-based Naomi Chazan Global Activism Fellow, Avraham Spraragen.
In my role at NIF, I oversee our fellowships, including the Naomi Chazan Global Activism Fellowship, the Elissa Froman Social Change Fellowship for rabbinical students, as well as the NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship, and I coordinate our NewGen community building stateside. Part of the elegance of this new role is that it integrates all our work with young people — NewGen as well as fellowships. On the Chazan trip, fellows from all three programs got the chance to meet, mingle, and learn together. Now that the Chazan fellows are back home, they organize NewGen events–shabbat dinners, text studies, giving circles, panels featuring our grantees — and communicate what they learned on the trip to the NewGen communities in their home cities. All of this helps foster the authentic interpersonal relationships and shared experiences of participating in social change which not only serves the mission of NIF but in fact our wider movement.
That’s another reason why I’m feeling hopeful at this moment: while NIF grantees are leading the charge on the ground, our young people stateside and across the diaspora are increasingly mobilized and organized, amplifying Israelis’ calls for democracy and shared society.