Inspired by Gvanim – Good Stories Open Hearts

Nurit Jacobs-Yinon

Nurit Jacobs-Yinon is an orthodox reformer: a forward-thinking feminist and a traditionally minded, married mother of four. Although those combined qualities might make her appear to be a living, breathing model of self-contradiction, her work as a filmmaker, artist and advocate conveys her worldview and her mission in terms that are cohesive, compelling and powerful.

Nurit is quick to acknowledge that those values were greatly fostered by the Gvanim program in which she served as a fellow.

Gvanim is a year-long Federation funded program created to break down the sectarian barriers that separate Israeli Jews from one another. It was designed to strengthen Israel’s democracy by convening a select group of mid-career professionals, such as Nurit, and cultivating their skillsets in order to spread the message of Jewish pluralism throughout every cultural, ethnic and religious silo of Israeli society.

In Nurit’s case, those pluralistic values are being promulgated in her self-described role as a storyteller. “We must tell the story,” said Nurit. “That’s the power of art… To tell stories so that people will be made aware… And good stories open hearts. And with knowledge, that’s how change starts.”

The current story she is telling as a documentarian addresses two interconnected and grossly underreported issues: the plight of the mamzerim and the struggles of female converts.

Mamzerim, loosely translated as “bastards,” are the product of two specific categories of relations deemed illicit according to some strains of orthodox halakha: incest and adultery. These children (and, indeed their children) are subject to severe marriage restrictions, social stigmatization, and – through some oddities of Israeli civil law – ineligibility for state offered financial benefits and desperately needed child support.

Nurit’s documentary and art installation, entitled Mamzerim: Labeled and Erased, sheds light on the plight of these innocent children. Similarly, her award-winning A Tale of a Woman and a Robe tells the story of women seeking to convert in accordance with orthodox law (as interpreted by various members of the Israeli rabbinate) being subject to male rabbis being present when they shed their clothing and immerse themselves in the mikveh.

“In both cases it’s a matter of powerful people choosing who is in and who is out,” said Nurit. “And in Israel, it’s the same bureaucracy that makes the decision. It’s why the English title of the art installation is called Inclusion and Exclusion.”

Gvanim will be celebrating program participants such as Nurit in San Francisco on May 7. It will be an inspirational evening highlighting the impressive efforts of educators, activists, entrepreneurs, and artists all dedicated, in their own way, to creating a richer, stronger and more inclusive Israeli society.

“I’ll never forget my time in Gvanim,” concluded Nurit. “What I experienced directly affects my work today but more than anything else, working on these issues with such a diverse group of people from Israel and the States gave me a much greater understanding of how and why we must do it together.”

Meet the next generation of Israel’s leaders participating in the current Gvanim cohort.

Tags: gvanim, Israel
Categories: Israel, Overseas


April 25, 2018


Jon Moskin