Davka Now, Our Work in Israel is Imperative

Davka. It’s one of those Hebrew words that doesn’t translate well, yet perfectly describes what is difficult to concisely convey in English.

“The sun disappeared and sheets of rain suddenly soaked the town. Davka today I had to leave my car umbrella at home.”

“Although she could barely afford it, davka Rachel was the only person to give tzedakah that day.”

Davka now, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Federation’s work in Israel is more crucial than ever, as terror struck again this summer, this time a blow from within. A 48-hour span last month left Israelis across the spectrum grieving the horrific deaths of four innocent lives – Shira Banki, a 16-year old girl stabbed to death while attending Jerusalem’s annual Gay Pride Parade, along with five others who sustained serious injuries; and 18-month Ali Dawabsha and his parents, Saad and Reham, who were firebombed in their West Bank home, and survived only by orphaned Ahmed, age 4. All were targets of extremists who murdered and maimed due to their intolerance of “the Other.”

Among the many leaders condemning the hate crimes was former President Shimon Peres, who shared the same Tel Aviv stage 20 years earlier in a peace rally with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated that fateful night by an Israeli religious extremist. While this summer’s hate crimes were immediately denounced by Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Rivlin and the Israeli religious leadership, this type of fanaticism rips at the heart of the state’s survival. According to Peres,

“Those who are prepared to burn babies in the middle of the night and plunge knives into the hearts of our daughters are the enemies of the people. They are a danger to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, as a democratic state.”

Davka now the Federation must reaffirm its work to build a shared society of inclusion, equality and justice for all of its citizens, as recently outlined by Israeli President Rivlin.

Davka now, when Israel’s demographics are in flux and social fragmentation threatens to compromise the democratic values that are inherent to Israel’s existence, the Federation has a moral obligation to continue strengthening Israel as a pluralistic, democratic, and just society with equal opportunity for all its citizens.

Gvanim alumni convene emergency meeting

The Federation’s flagship program, Gvanim, was founded 15 years ago in response to the deep divisions in Israeli society that persist today. This one-year action-oriented leadership development program is designed to train representatives from every religious and economic sector of Israeli society, who, in turn, promulgate the principles of civil society, religious diversity, and unity to their own communities.

Within days of the heinous murders of Shira and the Dawabsha family, more than 20 Gvanim alumni from all segments of Israeli society – Orthodox, secular, religious nationalist, men and women – convened an ad hoc meeting to try and comprehend these acts of terrorism, and brainstorm possible next steps. 

Their first reaction to these hate crimes was not to remain in the comfort zone of their own communities, but rather to reach across the table to other sector representatives. The Federation’s investment in these divergent sector leaders paid off, with the Gvanim alumni acting as Federation ambassadors, committed to strengthening Israel’s civil society. The ideas generated at the emergency session, including establishing a Gvanim Alumni Board to better support future initiatives of the diverse alumni community, reflected the assertion that Jewish pluralism in Israeli society is paramount, especially in times of crisis.

“Although we Israelis are unfortunately accustomed to frequent political storms, we realized that something very disturbing is happening in Israeli society and, as a Federation who cares about promoting religious pluralism, we can’t stay indifferent to the escalation of hate and fear between religious Jews, secular Jews, and Arabs.” -Gvanim Program Manager Tamar Alperovitch

Gvanim alumni convene an emergency meeting after hate crime wave.

Two Decades of Federation Support of LGBTQ citizens of Israel

Since the opening of our Federation’s office in Israel 30 years ago, equality for the local LGBTQ community has always been part of the Federation’s work. For the past three years, the Federation has partnered with the Aguda, the National Association of LGBTQ in Israel, with a matching grant from the Ministry of Welfare, to provide psychosocial support to LGBTQ community members. Services include a Helpline that fields hundreds of monthly calls and emails, and one-on-one meetings with social workers and psychologists for people grappling with coming out, and the damaging effects of homophobia, so that no one is left alone in his or her struggle.

The stabbings at the Gay Pride Parade and Shira’s death left an entire community in a state of shock and fear, and calls to the Helpline increased by 30% as a result. The Federation’s grant was in place to help the gay community process the vicious attack on its members and supporters. Assistance will continue this upcoming year, as we work with the Aguda to create a public and social climate of acceptance and respect for the LGBTQ community and for its individual members in Israel.

Shira’s mourners gather; candles spell out “Love” in Hebrew.
Image via Getty Images.

Increased Role

With President Rivlin’s resounding call for a New Israeli Order, the Federation’s presence in Israel is more important than ever. We must continue creating opportunities that celebrate Israel’s diverse population, and providing diverse platforms that enable the forging of new partnerships and collaborations.

“We are all here to stay – Haredim and secular Jews, Orthodox Jews and Arabs...the ‘New Israeli Order’ now requires us to abandon the accepted view of a majority and minorities, and move to a new concept of partnership between the various population sectors in our society.

As we greet the Jewish New Year in the face of these hate crimes, the Federation pledges to join hands with local and Israeli partners to help build a new social partnership in Israel, davka now. May this New Year be filled with tolerance and renewed purpose, focusing on that which unites us and celebrating that which makes our community unique. Shanah Tovah!

Categories: Israel, Holidays, Overseas


September 09, 2015