Jewish Pluralism, Bay Area Style: Israeli Gvanim Fellows Travel to the Bay for Cultural Exchange

They’re a spirited bunch and they’re on their way to the Bay Area in March. Seventeen dynamic and talented Israelis – secular, Orthodox, Masorti, Reform, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, women and men – all committed to actively shaping Jewish pluralism in Israel, will come to learn first-hand the varied ways in which Judaism, Jewishness, and diversity are expressed here in the Bay Area.

The Program

The 17 are fellows of the Federation’s flagship program, Gvanim, a one-year action-oriented leadership development program designed to train representatives from every sector of Israeli society, who, in turn, promulgate the principles of civil society, religious diversity, and unity to their own communities. In 2000, the Federation proactively created Gvanim with the conviction that the most difficult challenges which Israel currently faces are within Israel's divided society.

The Gvanim program is unique in that it gathers leaders from different religious denominations and economic sectors who are committed to building a Jewish state that is at once just, democratic and pluralistic. The spirit (or ruach) of Gvanim is characterized by serious, in-depth, open and meaningful discourse on what it means to live pluralistically in Israel today.

Case-study: Living Jewishly in the San Francisco Bay Area

The tenth Gvanim cohort en route to the U.S., dubbed Gvanim 10, will arrive in San Francisco on March 23rd for a whirlwind trip, packed with site visits, meetings and events with leading Bay Area Jewish thinkers, rabbis, educators and organizational leaders. The itinerary will include Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, A Wider Bridge, G-dcast, Peninsula Temple Beth El, Kehilla High School, Brandeis Hillel San Francisco, and a meeting with Brian Lurie, president of the New Israel Fund.

The purpose of the trip is to deepen the U.S.-Israeli cultural exchange around pluralism and civil society, and to introduce participants to the diverse options that exist within the Jewish world in the fields of education, culture, community, and Jewish renewal. This study tour promises to expose participants to religious, cultural, and social models of Jewish community that differ from those prevalent in Israel.

Introducing Gvanim 10

Since 2000, the Gvanim leadership program has graduated more than 150 key leaders with broad spheres of influence in Israeli society, including Knesset members, cabinet ministers, mayors, high-ranking officers in the Israel Defense Forces, CEOs, foundation leaders, academics, media professionals, and more.

The Gvanim 10 cohort does not disappoint. Each participant brings to the group a rich world of Jewish experience and expertise, representing different communities in Israeli society:

Lior Gross is currently in the Israel Defense Forces, serving as Chief of the Paratroopers Brigade Reserves Headquarters. In addition, he is Commander of the IDF Junior Command Preparatory School at the Hebrew Reali High School in Haifa.

Avi Steinberg is Director of Education for Masa Israel Journey, a flagship program of the Jewish Agency for Israel, bringing over 10,000 young Jewish adults to Israel on long-term programs each year.

Yariv Nornberg has extensive international relations experience, working with both the Israeli and U.S. governments. He has worked as an international regulatory and government relations manager at Better Place, and manager of strategy, mergers and acquisitions at Amdocs. Yariv has also served as an emissary for the Jewish Agency in North America.

Yaron Kanner is the CEO of Panim, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to promote pluralistic Judaism in Israel in partnership with over 50 organizations and institutions that share its vision.

Rabbi Benayahu Tvila is a Ministry of Education supervisor and inspector, overseeing Haredi high schools in Israel. He heads major projects such as bringing technology education to yeshiva students, as well as the establishment of formal ultra-Orthodox schools in Israel.

Nurit Jacobs Yinon is an independent filmmaker and owner of Aluma Films, where her focus is in the field of documentary projects, new media and video arts. Nurit's artistic work investigates mainly the Orthodox-Feminism-Art nexus.

David M. Feuchtwanger is a teacher of Talmud, philosophy and political science. For the past 12 years he has taught at Hartman High School in Jerusalem and instructs in other institutions, including the Hebrew University, Yeshivat Hesder Machanayim in Efrat, and Beit Morasha in Jerusalem. David is currently working with the Herzog Teachers' College, Israel's largest religious seminary in education, to establish a Department of Civic Education.

Oded Ravivi has served as Mayor of Efrat since 2008. While in office, he has worked to position Efrat as an ecologically conscious city, the prosperous capital of Gush Etzion, and a magnet for new immigrants and Israeli families alike. Oded promotes increasingly efficient work practices and the fostering of good relations with the neighboring Arab villages.

Ester Bar Natan has dedicated her life to the field of education. Since 2011, she has managed the Jerusalem branch of the Adler Institute, the nation's premier learning and training center in the field of human relationships, with a focus on parenting and family.

Yafa Benaya is an educator and a social activist. Her expertise is in education, leadership and school management, and she is deeply involved in activities relating to pluralistic Judaism, feminism and social justice. Yafa is a founder of the Morasha Network for Jewish education and community activism, serving as the education manager of Mimizrach Shemesh, a Beit Midrash for Social Leadership.

As an ultra-Orthodox woman and attorney, Vardit Rosenblum has developed a unique program to train rabbinic court judges and students in better understanding the complexities of Israel, and to prepare them for the challenging encounter with users of the court system. For over 11 years, Vardit worked at Yad La’isha, an organization offering legal support for divorce-refused women in the rabbinic courts.

Since 1975, Rabbi Mauricio Balter has managed a series of religious institutes in South America and Israel and, since 1983, has served as a spiritual leader. He is chair of the Rabbinical Assembly Israel, member of the Administrative Committee of the International Rabbinical Assembly, and chair of the Siddur and Machzor committees of the Masorti Movement in Israel. He currently teaches at five schools in Be'er Sheva.

Elisheva Mazya serves as CEO of the Jerusalem based nonprofit organization New Spirit, which works to keep educated young adults in Jerusalem in order help Israel’s capital be a thriving and pluralistic city.

Rabbi Rafi Ostroff is chair of the Religious Council of the Regional Municipality of Gush Etzion. In addition to teaching Talmud in area high schools, He is the co-founder of the Yahel Center for Sexual Consultation and Guidance, which serves as an education and guidance center largely for religious and Masorti couples after marriage. It is unique in concentrating exclusively on a delicate subject within this traditional community of Israel.

Rabbi Menachem Bombach is director of the Haredi Campus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and director of the youth division of the city of Betar Illit. He is also a moderator of the Shluchei Tzibbur program for leadership in the Haredi community. Rabbi Bombach has been headmaster of Le-Zion Be-Rina high school for the last 10 years, and was named religious educator of the year in 2011.

Shlomit Ravitsky Tur-Paz is executive director of Beit Midrash Elul in Jerusalem. She is a lawyer by training, as well as a lecturer and group facilitator on issues of Judaism, society, gender and law. Shlomit founded and managed the Itim Center, a hub of resources and advocacy for Jewish life, and has dealt largely with issues of religion and state. Shlomit also founded and managed Sha’arim, a pluralistic Beit Midrash.

In her role as manager of non-formal education under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Irit Brook supervises all of the youth movements in Israel, pre-services programs, preparation for military, the national peace corps, and other youth groups, and advises the Minister of Education in matters relevant to the department.

We hope that their U.S. visit will be insightful, thought-provoking, and instrumental in building bridges between our communities, engaging in mutual learning, and contribute to realizing the Federation’s mission to ensure a vibrant, connected, inclusive and enduring Jewish community here and in Israel.

If you’d like to know more about the Gvanim program or get involved, please contact Siggy Rubinson, Program Officer at the Federation.


March 03, 2014