Authoring the Next Chapter of Israel’s Future, Together

On a Thursday morning in California, 7,500 miles away, I spoke with Barak Loozon at his home in Israel, as he was barreling into the 13th hour of a workday.

Barak Loozon

Barak is the director of the Federation’s Israel office. He also spent several years living and working in the Bay Area (following a Wexner fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), which gives him both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective on the internal needs of Israeli society and on the partnership between our communities.

He covered a lot of ground, but a common thread is: Things are changing.

For the most part, Barak explained, the founders, power players, and early influencers of the modern Jewish state were secular, Ashkenazi, and European Jews. They held the overwhelming majority of social, political, and economic capital and their secular Zionist values were near the center of the national “ethos” that unified most Israelis for much of its first 70 years.

But today’s Israel is more diverse and less unified than in the previous generation. In accordance with President Reuven Rivlin’s characterization of the modern Jewish state, the Federation sees a country not so much of one philosophy but of separate and distinct “silos” or “tribes” that too often have little to do with one another: Secular, Arab, Ultra-Orthodox, and religious Zionist, just to name a few.

Barak and his team are working tirelessly to change that through programs such as Gvanim, Israeli Hope in Academia, and the Living Together Initiative.

Gvanim, Hebrew for “Hues”, is a one-year, action-oriented fellowship that engages burgeoning Israeli leaders across the religious and social spectrum, toward promoting pluralism throughout Israeli society.

Members of the 2016 Gvanim cohort visiting San Francisco

Similarly, Israeli Hope in Academia, is promulgating diversity and multiculturalism in Israeli colleges and universities by investing in diverse, young Israelis on campus at a moment when they are open to learning about themselves and others and the role they will play in building Israel’s future.

And the Living Together Initiative may be the most ambitious program yet. “For the first time in Israel’s history, we have a diverse coalition of funders. … We have Ultra-Orthodox funders and philanthropists sitting together with Arab contractors… We have religious Zionist people meeting with liberal left wingers. Guys come to meetings with uzis. It sounds like the beginning of a joke. At every single meeting, it’s hard. It’s the hardest thing we’ve done. But we decided that in order to build new social partnerships in Israel, we have to work together. It can’t just be the liberal guys from San Francisco and New York. It has to be an internal Israeli effort of different people putting their hands in the buckets and bringing their money and joining this effort. And that’s what is happening—and it’s great.”

Living Together Initiative Task Force meeting, 2016

Of course, the other key sector that will help author Israel’s future is not even in Israel.

“It’s you guys,” said Barak, referring to Jews in the Diaspora. “As President Rivlin said at the General Assembly, you guys are the fifth tribe…You know, I just heard that there are an unprecedented number of refugees in the world. Asylum seekers… I think it’s about 20 million. Which is crazy. But not one of them is a Jew. And the reason for that is Israel. Not one Jew can be a refugee anymore because of the state of Israel. So I think [what needs to be communicated to American Jews] is that we need you, because Israel was never the sole project of Israelis. It was always the major project of the Jewish world. So the next chapter of Israel and the next chapter of Jewish life should be authored by all of us.”

Categories: Israel


December 08, 2017


Jon Moskin