The Latest Cohort of Rock Star Israeli Community Builders

Gvanim 13 makes its mark

In 2000, the Federation launched 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, 15 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, 2017 – where participants are introduced to the Bay Area’s diverse expressions of Jewish religion and culture.

Meet this year's Gvanim cohort:

Edi Zhensker was born in Ukraine and immigrated to Israel at the age of eight. He earned his M.B.A from the Mandel Social Leadership Program at Ben-Gurion University. Edi is extremely familiar with Israel's civil society. In his last position, he served as executive director of the Israel Center of Negotiation and Mediation, and previously as executive director of Our Heritage, an NGO that promotes principles of peace, democracy, and human rights among the Russian-speaking population in Israel, and as a project manager for the Israeli Labor Party.

Edi is among the leaders of Generation 1.5 – Russian-Speaking Youth – a movement for young people who immigrated to Israel at a young age or are first generation Israelis. The movement aims to transform the prevailing attitude towards the Russian-speaking community. Russian-speaking Israelis who were born “there” and raised “here” have a unique perspective on issues that are of importance to the Russian-speaking population in Israel, and this allows them to serve as a bridge between groups and identities.

Colonel Raz Karni served for over 26 years in various positions in the Israel Defense Forces, dedicating the last 15 years to the command of promotional units for special populations. From 2014, Raz served as commander of the Magen Division at the Education and Youth Corps. He earned a B.A. in Middle Eastern History and the History of Israel, as well as an M.A. in Political Science and Public Administration, from the Bar Ilan University. He is also a graduate of the Mandel Educational Leadership Program.

Raz is married to Limor and a father of four. He lives in Shimshit.

Rabbi Ezra Ende, the founding rabbi of Kehilat HaDror in Jerusalem, was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 2006. After his ordination, he served at Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for four years. In 2010, Rabbi Ende returned to Jerusalem, where he was an associate rabbi at Kehilat Kol Haneshama while working to establish Kehilat HaDror. In addition to his congregational work, he is the school rabbi at Tali Bayit V’Gan elementary school and at the Tali Beit Hinuch High School, both of which are affiliated with the Israeli Reform Movement.

Meir Dahan has been the mayor of Mazkeret Batya since 2003, was director general of the Bney Ayish Local Council between 1999 and 2003, and was an editor and journalist at Haaretz between 1988 and 1998. As mayor, Meir established the Keshet elementary and high school that integrates religious and secular pupils and studies, and he developed and operated numerous educational initiatives.

Meir is also chairman of the Shalem Foundation, which develops services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and the director of a company that provides local governmental economic services. He has a B.A. in Land of Israel Studies and an M.A. in Public Policy and Management, and is a graduate of a U.S. State Department’s international visitor leadership program.

Oshra Friedman made Aliyah from Ethiopia in the clandestine "Operation Moses" when she was seven years old. In 2002, she earned a B.A. in Criminology and Human Resources from Bar Ilan University, and in 2007 she completed her M.A. in the field of Immigration and Social Absorption at the Ruppin Academic College. Oshra is currently studying for her Doctorate in Education and Leadership at Haifa University.

In 2000, after a long and successful career in the IDF as an Educational Officer, she joined the Rashi Foundation, where she spearheaded the establishment of the Foundation’s Katzir Scholarship Fund. This unique scholarship fund targets the economically weak populations of Israel's periphery, enabling students to gain academic achievement, thus improving their social mobility and economic independence. After establishing a program for single mothers within the Katzir Fund, Oshra was recognized with the New Israel Fund’s 2014 Yaffa London Yaari Prize.

A leading activist within the Ethiopian-Israeli community, Oshra joined Tebeka as a vice president in June 2016, where she promotes justice and equality for all Ethiopian-Israelis. Oshra and her husband, Tzahi, are the proud parents of Lidor, Or, and Guy.

Eran Schwartz is CEO of the Yigal Allon Educational Center for Social Leadership, an organization focused on leadership development, informal education, and social activism, based on a humanist Zionist ideology. He completed his B.A. at Haifa University in the Ofakim Honors Program, and the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris. Eran is currently writing a thesis on Israeli public diplomacy as part of his dual M.A. in Political Science and Communication. A (Res.) major in the IDF, he has served as a pilot and commander for a decade, and has instructed in the IAF Flight Academy.

Eran is frequently involved in various programs dealing with Israel’s social and political challenges. Most recently, he participated in the IVLP program (the USA State Department’s flagship leadership program). he is married to Sarah and they are currently living in Moshav Gan-Ner in the Gilboa mountains.

Sari Cohen grew up in a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family in Bnei Brak. She has a B.A. from Talpiot College, a master's degree in education from Bar Ilan University, and a graduate of the Nshot Chayil program at the Mandel Leadership Institute. An expert in didactic diagnostics and learning functions, Sari's professional experience includes many years as an educator, counselor and teachers' trainer.

Sari established and directed the Lauder Beth Zion School for children of the Orthodox community in Berlin. For the past six years, she has been working at the Ministry of Education as a supervisor of Haredi elementary schools in Israel. Sari initiated and is currently leading a program that raises awareness and promotes a healthy lifestyle in the Haredi community. She is married with five charming children.

Neta Katz served as executive director of Shahar, an organization dedicated to building bridges between the Haredi population and the greater Israeli society, with an emphasis on devising a system within the Israeli military suited for Haredi soldiers. This includes designing military units within the Paratroopers and Givati brigades, so that Haredi troops would be able to carry out their military service while living as practicing Orthodox Jews.

Neta graduated with honors from the ACC College – Tirza Granot School for Copywriting. He has worked as a strategic consultant and, as a social activist, Neta is involved in various projects that involve advancing an Orthodox renewal that strives for the integration of the Haredi community in Israeli society while preserving Haredi identity and uniqueness.

In addition, Neta and his wife are the owners of a children's clothing store chain called "Sons," with seven branches located in various Haredi neighborhoods. Neta is 29 years old and lives in Bnei Brak with his wife and two children.

Yael Brandl is managing director of Reut's Leapfrog Center, an initiative that promotes economic and social development across Israel through training and consulting services. Before joining Reut, Yael worked at the IDF’s Strategic Planning Division, where she developed the IDF's policy positions on the Knesset's legislative initiatives. Before her work in the IDF, she managed the Tel Aviv office of Yedid, an organization that helps minorities realize their social and civil rights.

Yael holds an M.A. in Public Policy from Tel Aviv University, and a B.A. in Political Science, Sociology, and Anthropology from the Hebrew University.

Roee Weller has been CEO of the Gush Etzion Regional Council since July 2012. Prior to joining the Regional Council, he worked as the Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Tourism, as a member of the Knesset Finance Committee, and as parliamentary assistant to the Chairman of the State Control Knesset Committee.

Roee was a member of the National Committee for the National Heritage Infrastructures in 2010-2012, a member of the Government Committee for the Reducing of Vacation Prices in Israel in 2012, and a member of the Public Committee for Selecting Torchbearers for the 2010 and 2011 Independence Day. He is also a board member of the educational foundation Ashet Hayil.

Roee holds a B.A. in International Relations and Middle East Studies and Islam from the Hebrew University, an L.L.B in Law from the Netanya Academic College, and an M.A. in Law from Bar Ilan University. He is 36 years old and lives in Efrat with his family.

Sigal Gilboa has served as director of the Community Development Department of the Golan Regional Council since 2014. Prior to that, she established and directed the unit for community development in the Upper Galilee Regional Council.

Sigal has a B.E.D. in Special Needs Education, and an M.A. in Educational Counseling and Training in the field of mediation, group leadership and coaching. She has taught courses on education, counseling and mediation at the Open University, the Kibbutzim College and the Beit Berl College, as well as courses on mediation at various institutes. With the relocation of her family to the Golan Heights, Sigal now implements her skills and abilities in the rural sector. She served as community director in various communities in the Golan. In this framework, she took part in drafting a coexistence treaty of religious and secular residents in an integrated community.

Sigal is 51 years old and was born and raised in Herzliya. She now lives with her family in Kibbutz Ein Zivan.

Itschak Trachtengot is a program manager in Tevet – Israel JDC, dean of the Shlichey Tzibur program at the Hebrew University, and a lecturer on Psychology and Special Education at the Jerusalem College, Bayit Vegan. Prior to that, Itschak served as deputy director of the Ramot Alon Community Center in Jerusalem, and manager of the Community Department in the Central District. He managed an evening school for at-risk youth in Jerusalem, and for 13 years served as a teacher and an educational consultant at Yeshivat Tiferet Zvi in Jerusalem.

Itschak has a B.A. in Psychology and Education from the Open University, an M.A. in Educational Counseling from the Hebrew University, and an M.A. from the School of Public Policy at the Hebrew University, as well as a teaching certificate from the Herzog-Lifshitz College and a group facilitator certificate from the Tzipory Institute in Jerusalem.

Itschak lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Sarah, and their seven children.

Niva Re'em is currently the general manager of the Kolot Banegev Association, a center for training and facilitation toward social change. In addition, Niva is the founder and one of the leaders of the Periphery Movement. She previously worked for 15 years in the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel as a director of a field-school and manager of the training school for tour guides.

Niva is also a social activist, group facilitator, organizational development consultant, and a tour-guide.

She volunteers in the Women Wage Peace movement. She is married to Ram Salhuv and is a mother of two boys. They live in Moshav Yad Natan.

Ayelet Lerer-Shaki was born and raised in Jerusalem and England, and currently lives in Jerusalem. She studied Mass Communication at Columbia University and Osaka Diakoku, and graduated with honors from the Sam Shpiegle Film and Television School. Ayelet’s films won international awards such as the Audience Award at the Paris Film Festival and the Jury’s Award at the Poitier Film Festival, and were also featured at the Berlin, Venice, and Bombay film festivals, and in a retrospective exhibition at the MOMA, New York. She worked as a producer for the Reuters English News Agency, as well as a strategic communications advisor for political campaigns.

In 1999, Ayelet embraced Judaism and began working with Rabbi Uri Zohar as a strategic advisor and campaign producer. She initiated Yotzrot Becharada, a movement that paved the way for the thriving ultra-Orthodox Israeli film industry, directing and producing Sub Culture films that are broadcast among the Haredi community.

Today, Ayelet serves as head of the Canaf program at the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and Galilee, which seeks out women leaders and community networking in the geo-social periphery.

Noam Samet is a graduate of the Har Hamor and Siach Yitzchak Yeshivas in Mitzpe Ramon. He has a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Ben Gurion University. Noam currently serves as the head of Beit Midrash at the Siach Yitzchak Yeshiva in the settlement of Efrat, a center for spiritual renewal and the creation of a new religious language in the Religious-Zionist sphere. He also teaches Gemara, Hasidut, and Jewish thought in various frameworks; and he lectures at Herzog College and researches erudite and Halachic writings from the early Modern period.

Noam formerly served as head of the Nokdim District Committee and chairman of the Kedem Integrating School’s steering committee, and continues to be engaged with the integration of communities, on various levels. He is married and a father of five, and lives in the communally integrated settlement of Nokdim.

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

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


March 23, 2017