The Federation’s Gvanim Program Promotes Jewish Pluralism

Meet the 2015 Cohort

In 2000, the Federation founded the Gvanim program in response to the deep sectarian, social, and political divisions in Israel symbolized by the assassination of Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin by a Jewish religious extremist.

The groundbreaking program works to strengthen Israel’s democracy by creating a cadre of leaders to spread the message of Jewish pluralism to ever-widening circles of Israelis. Of the hundreds who apply each year, 16 professionals, representing every religious and economic sector of Israeli society, are selected to participate. The program culminates with a visit to San Francisco – next in May of 2015 – where participants are introduced to the Bay Area’s diverse expressions of Jewish religion and culture.

Meet this year’s Gvanim participants

Udi Hershler is an entrepreneur who founded Humaney, an innovative online service to transform the entire web into a dynamic and interactive social arena. He is a lecturer who has engaged in a wide variety of subjects in the fields of Jewish thought, philosophy, and cinema. He also serves as a cantor in several communities around the world – Europe, Russia, the United States, and South America – enabling him to learn a great deal about Jewish life in the Diaspora. And, his intense and extensive Jewish studies growing up in the ultra-Orthodox community and its education system continue to reflect in the breadth of his activities.

Eliraz Shifman-Berman is founder and director of the Tnufah program for training young Jewish professionals for social entrepreneurship and activism. The program trains, mentors and supports 20 students in the fields of entrepreneurship, Judaism and community. She also works with students in the MA program for Jewish pluralistic education at the Department of Education and Professional Development at Hebrew Union College Jerusalem.

Eti Meller is a program director in Tevet, a partnership between JDC Israel and the Israeli government, developing social services designed to help people break away from poverty through integration into the workforce. In 2001, she pioneered the first employment bureau for the Haredi sector and, since 2004, has been working in JDC Israel-Tevet, developing models for the promotion of employment for Haredim and striving to integrate these models within the society at-large. She is also a founding member of the Israeli forum for diversity in employment.

Dr. Galit Desheh, who holds a Ph. D. in political science and gender studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is the executive director of the Israeli Women's Network. Prior to joining the IWN, she worked as director of the educational department at the Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center. She has also served as a visiting research fellow at the Peace and Conflict Studies Faculty, University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, and the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, where she studied the role of Palestinian women in public administration.

Eli Vaknin serves as the CEO of Friends of Baitham, a nonprofit organization that operates a national network of youth homes and programs for children and at-risk youth who live in Israel's periphery. He has over two decades worth of professional and managerial experience in social organizations, and has been an active volunteer since 2000 in social welfare and community resilience activities. He has also participated in Jewish pluralistic seminars as well as Jewish and social leadership programs, and serves as an activist in the social justice and pluralistic Judaism movement.

Dr. Haya Benedek is director of the Western Galilee MIF'AM, a branch of the Ministry of the Interior responsible for organizational development, consultation, and training programs in local government authorities. In addition, she is also responsible for national-level specialization in environmental protection with special emphasis on sustainability, water resources, business licensing, security, and appointing committees. Her career in the local municipal sector spans 26 years.

Israel Hofrichter was raised with a secular upbringing and served in the Israeli Air Force as an air control officer. While pursuing studies in architecture and city planning in New York, he made a commitment to increase his religious observance. Today, he is the director of JDC’s Shachar Hadash program, which provides vocational training to Haredi men in Israel through their enrollment in the Israel Defense Forces. He also offers religiously and culturally appropriate support to youth who have made the decision to discontinue their full-time Torah study, and guides them towards professional education, gainful employment, or the army.

Moshe Karif, Esq. is a well-known Israeli social justice entrepreneur, activist, and media personality. In addition to practicing law, he is the chairman and CEO of Tehuda, a registered NGO dedicated to promoting community leadership and activism, primarily in Israel’s peripheral “development towns,” which still suffer from poverty and inferior educational and social services. In addition, Tehuda also manages projects promoting traditional Sephardi cultural activities, and for many years was one of the leaders of the Keshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit, an NGO dedicated to ending the social and economic discrimination against Mizrahi Jews in Israel. He was also one of the founders of the Sderot Convention, Israel’s leading social justice public forum.

Noa Yovel Maoz is a board member of the Gandyr Foundation, which works to strengthen Israeli society by focusing mainly on supporting civil society organizations that take social and moral missions upon themselves. For the last five years she has been leading sustainability projects and collaborations, most notably initiating the "eCommunities" program (sustainable communities), a joint investment of the Gandyr Foundation, Green Environment Fund, and Jewish National Fund. She is the owner of Y.M. Proceed Ltd, a small holdings company with a triple bottom line: environmental, social, and financial.

Nehemia Steinberger is dean and director of the Haredi pre-academic program at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which works toward integration of Haredi youth in academia. He is also a founding partner in the Haredi high school yeshiva Chachmei Lev, a revolutionary program to integrate and educate Haredi teens towards higher education. As a member of Haredim LeAtid HAChevra Forum, he participates in gaining a perspective on the future of Israel's position on topics such as social issues and economics, as well as national security and foreign relations. In addition, he serves as rabbi and executive director at the orthodox Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue in Rechavia, Jerusalem.

Sigal Kantopsky, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia at a young age, serves as CEO of Olim Beyahad: Rising Up Together, an Israeli nonprofit working to increase the employment rate among Ethiopian-Israeli university graduates by promoting their integration into the forefront of Israel's workforce, and giving them an equal opportunity to gain respectable jobs that suit their academic education. Over the years, Sigal has remained deeply involved in social causes as an organizer of special projects, as well as in resource development. She is a board member of the Employment Diversity Forum, as well as a member of a roundtable of executive directors of organizations that work with the Ethiopian Israeli community.

After nine years of army service, culminating in the command of an Egoz Reconnaissance Unit platoon, Amichai Chikli decided to change course and join the world of educational social action. He founded the Tavor Academy for Social Leadership, whose graduates are encouraged to play a significant part – in their own way – in developing Israel’s national and social fortitude. A major in the reserve army, he also serves as a company commander of an elite IDF unit.

Faigi Cohen has held various positions in Orthodox education – teaching, remedial and educational counseling – and is currently employed as an inspector in the new orthodox sector in the Ministry of Education. In that role, she is responsible for over 40 elementary schools for orthodox girls. In addition, she is responsible for leading a program for outstanding students in Communication Technology for the entire orthodox sector. She also partners with her husband in many social enterprises in the Orthodox sector on many different topics, such as education, welfare, employment, inter-Orthodox dialog and dialog with the entire Israeli society.

Since 2007, Ron Shani has been the Mayor of the Misgav Regional Council in the Galilee region of northern Israel, noted for the way that Jewish and non-Jewish communities live side-by-side. He is in charge of governmental legislation in the fields of criminal law and procedure. He also advises on matters of national security. Before becoming mayor, he held senior positions in marketing and communications for start-up companies in the communication field, and he served in the Israeli Navy.

Since 2011, Raz Nizri has served as Israel's Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Matters. In this capacity, he is responsible for advising the government on all matters of criminal law and law enforcement, as well as matters of national security, including governmental legislation and procedure. In addition, he assists the attorney general in handling high profile criminals for which the AG has sole discretion, for example, criminal procedures against judges, politicians and public figures.

Rafael Peretz, whose family emigrated from Morocco in the 1950s, is the corporate secretary for culture, sports and community centers in Ashdod, the largest municipal corporation in Israel today. With a background in public administration, he oversees the informal education in 14 community centers, runs the extra-curricular activities in schools, and produces cultural activities such as municipal official events, national and international festivals. He also currently serves as a city council member of his home municipality, Gan Yavne, and recently was elected as a national representative of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization. 

Learn more about the Gvanim program or the Federation’s other work in Israel

Tags: Israel, gvanim
Categories: Israel, Grantees, Overseas


February 18, 2015


Nora Smith