Gvanim – Committing to a Shared Life in Israel

Words such as diversity and tolerance too often come across in our contemporary discourse as meaningless clichés. Has any relationship ever really flourished because the parties involved “tolerated” one another? Barak Loozon, the Federation’s Israel Office Director, will tell you that it takes more than tolerance: it takes shared values — or at least one shared value — and it takes commitment. One of the ways that commitment is being enacted is through the Federation's Israel-based program, Gvanim (Hebrew for “hues”), which it founded in the wake of one of the most horribly intolerant acts in Israel’s history: the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli religious extremist. Since then, Gvanim has been strengthening Israeli society by creating cohort after cohort of leaders dedicated to spreading the real-world message of pluralism across Israeli society.

This has been no small challenge because, as famously observed by President Reuven Rivlin, Israeli society has segregated itself into sectors that have virtually no interaction with one another. Those sectors include religious Zionist Jews, ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews, secular Jews, and Arab Israelis. They have separate schools, separate communities, and separate lives. So who needs sympathy for beliefs differing from one's own? Well, as it turns out, Israel does. And a major reason for that, aside from national security, is basic demography. “Fifty percent of our first graders today are either Arabs or ultra-Orthodox,” said Loozon from his home in Israel. “Which makes this the first time in Israel’s history that there is a majority that is not Zionist… Now this is a completely different kind of Israel than we’ve known.” This evolution in Israeli society propelled Loozon and Gvanim’s Director, Tamar Alperovitch, to implement a two-part programmatic shift: “To make it more relevant to what’s going on in Israel now.”

T: Luai Abu Swead
B: Sukiena Swaeed

The first part involves increasing Gvanim’s emphasis on an Israeli pluralism that includes non-Jewish Israelis who account for 20% of the population. Accordingly, members of the current Gvanim cohort include leaders such as Luai Abu Swead, who works for the Association for Released Soldiers in the Ministry of Defense and is the founder of Ansam, a nonprofit promoting social and educational activities among Arab and Bedouin young people in order to help them integrate into society. And Sukiena Swaeed, an educational counselor living in Kamanneh, who helped establish a “parents council” to promote education, welfare, and the advancement of women.

The second part has been Gvanim’s commitment to “meet people where they are.” Literally and figuratively. “Gvanim used to be one (centrally located) fellowship program of 15 people with four or five spinoffs where alumni would conduct the program within their own organizations. And it worked great.” said Loozon. “But it was time to scale it up. So this year alone we have 21 different programs throughout the country!” In other words, in the past, the people used to come to Gvanim. Today, Gvanim is coming to the people. “We now have programs and alumni that are active within the Ministry of Justice and municipalities, the military, within companies, colleges, and hospitals. We are connected throughout Israeli society.”

As Loozon noted, Gvanim’s meeting people where they are goes far beyond geography. “It also means that we understand that ours is not the only grammar from which people understand the world… We are making the case that in order to author the next chapter of Israel, there is a crucial need for the other’s perspective. The other’s world of meaning.”

Ultimately, this profound respect for the worlds of meaning of every “other” in Israeli society is what guides Gvanim and allows its participants with radically different worldviews to come together as they embrace one core value: a commitment to a shared life in Israel.

Gvanim 15 cohort at the San Francisco Muslim Community Center, with Liki Abrams, Michael Pappas (Executive Director of the Interfaith Council), Hala Hijazi (Human Rights Commission), and Imam Abu Qadir Al-Amin (San Francisco Muslim Community Center), March 2019

For more information about Gvanim, please contact Danit Trau.

Categories: Israel, Leadership


May 02, 2019


Jon Moskin