Up Close & Personal with Gvanim 10

Among the stellar group of Israeli leaders coming to the Bay Area as part of the Federation’s Gvanim program – read more here – there is an impressive range of diversity and experience. One participant is Yafa Benaya, an educator and a social activist with expertise in leadership and school management, who is deeply involved in the advancement of pluralistic Judaism, feminism, and social justice. She is a founder of the Morasha Network for Jewish education and community activism and serves as the education manager of Mimizrach Shemesh, a beit midrash for social leadership.
Like about one/third of Israeli Jews who hail from North African, Mediterranean, and Islamic countries, Yafa identifies as a Masorti Jew. Masorti means “traditional” but describes a modern, egalitarian religious movement in Israel.
She was born in Morocco and raised in Israel and, for the past 15 years, has been advocating to renew her rich heritage and include it in the general consciousness of the greater Israeli society. Yafa explains that the Masorti identity represents a “third” option for Jews living in Israel, one that is neither secular nor Orthodox, but rather a combination of secular beliefs mixed with tradition and halakhah that is “doable” in today’s modern world.
“In the religious school I attended as a girl, I understood that I wasn’t religious enough, and in the public school I attended I felt like I wasn’t secular, either,” said Yafa. “I believe Masorti is an identity that can actually act to mediate between the splintered religious camps out there, because it is more inclusive and tolerant. The dichotomous nature of either you’re religious or you’re secular is not part of the Masorti dialogue.”
She continues:
“I came to Gvanim after many years of activism within my identity group, recognizing that the time was right for me to start connecting the dots and realize the work we have as a collective. Having strengthened my own Jewish identity as a Masorti Jewish woman, I’m now strong enough to reach out and represent my Masorti identity to others, certain that Jewish renewal in Israel will benefit from its inclusion in this crucial conversation.
“I’m very moved by what I’ve experienced thus far in the Gvanim program. I’m most definitely on a personal journey. The encounters with ‘the other’ through our lectures and open discussions have challenged me to really home-in and look inward in order to clarify my vision of what we should be striving for in a pluralistic Israel.”
To learn more about the Federation’s Gvanim program contact Siggy Rubinson, Program Officer at the Federation.



March 05, 2014