Shatil Spotlight: Writing an Unknown Story

9 February 2024
NIF and Shatil staff members at a recent summit meeting.

Photo Credit: Shatil

By Melanie Takefman, director of writing at NIF Israel

The past year has been impossible: the anger, the agony, and—not least—the unknown. When will the hostages return? When will the war end? When will elections take place? 

The unknown has weighed heavily on all of us in Israel, as citizens, as individuals, and as New Israel Fund staffers. I, for one, have experienced these feelings on both the personal and professional levels.

As a person, I crave stability and routine. As a writer, I cling to pre-defined narratives. As NIF’s Director of Writing, I often tell the story of our organization. NIF’s communications team and I spent the last few weeks telling the story of our 2023. It was a volatile, trying, and inspirational year that came on the heels of other draining years. When it comes to 2024, if there’s one certainty, it is that nothing is certain. When we are faced with uncertainty, sometimes the instinctual thing to do is to freeze and wait until it passes. At NIF, we can’t afford to stand in place, but how can we plan when we don’t know what the future holds? 

To help answer this question, Shatil and NIF staffers convened last month for a Simulation Summit. Led by Shatil experts, we imagined—or simulated—what the next year will look like and then articulated which NIF strategies could influence these potential realities. In other words, we started writing NIF’s story for 2024—even though it is a story we don’t know yet.

Shatil uses simulations as a tool to help organizations and activists develop strategies. “Simulations allow us to dive deeply into a topic, identify potential scenarios and future developments, and determine how to respond to each of them,” said Eran Klein, a Shatil organizational consultant and an architect of the recent Simulation Summit.

At the simulation, we split into four groups, each one reflecting NIF’s strategic fields of action for 2024: Jewish-Arab relations within Israel; political vision and occupation; protests; and human rights in times of crisis. First, each group discussed the kinds of potential events that would affect its field of focus—such as an all-out war on Israel’s northern border which would lead to increased tensions between Jewish and Palestinian citizens there. During the second half of the day, we imagined how NIF would act within the scenarios we had sketched out. For example, which messages would we promote about ending the conflict should an even more extreme government be elected in the next election cycle versus a centrist one?

Now, Shatil’s simulations team is compiling and analyzing insights from the Summit to incorporate into our work plans for 2024. 

The Simulation Summit and the story of the past year taught us that we must learn to think differently. We don’t have the luxury of certainty; we must constantly brace ourselves for surprises. For the past decade, NIF invested in building the foundations of a civil society which can contend with and confront the unknown; that investment paid off in 2023. This last year, a bolstered emergency grants budget also armed us with the flexibility to meet emerging opportunities and challenges. These steps—and our ability to pivot while remaining true to our values—helped us respond valiantly to unimaginable challenges. 

Shatil’s Simulation Summit will undoubtedly help NIF and Shatil sharpen our future plans. We will plan strategically while remaining flexible, and we will continue building the foundations of a more democratic, equitable Israel.

On a personal level, the simulations helped me find steady ground amid so much shock and horror. During the past four months when reality far surpassed my worst nightmares, I found it excruciating to imagine how the situation could deteriorate further. Yet, through the simulations, I found comfort in confronting the unknown, unpacking it. These sessions helped my colleagues and I put into words what we feel, what we fear saying. Simulating the worst is challenging but it also invites us to imagine a better future. Ultimately, it will help me—and all of us at NIF—write a more optimistic story.