A New Crop of Leaders Promoting Pluralism in Israel

Meet the 2016 Gvanim participants

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, 2016 – where participants are introduced to the Bay Area’s diverse expressions of Jewish religion and culture.

Meet this year’s Gvanim participants

Major Uriya Bachrach serves as a major in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and is vice commander of the Israeli military radio station “Galey Tzahal.” His IDF roles have included squadron commander in an Orthodox soldiers’ unit, officer spokesperson, and commander of unique and vulnerable populations serving in the IDF.

Previously, Bachrach specialized in public relations and advertising, working for advertising companies and focusing on the orthodox sectors. He also was spokesperson for the Israeli Terror Victims Association. He graduated from Tel Aviv University with an M.A. in Political Communications and Social Sciences, and has his B.A. in Communications and Management from the Open University.

Rabbi Dov (Dubi) Hayun grew up in Netanya to a religious Sephardi family. During his military service in Nahal, he integrated educational work together with active, combat service through the command and education of soldiers from underprivileged backgrounds, including those who were illiterate. After his service, he continued working with young people as a youth counselor, tour guide, and teacher.

Rabbi Hayun was a member of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, and one of the founders of the urban kibbutz, Tamuz. He has written and edited for the journal Shdemot and published six books of poetry. After completing his first degree in history and bible, together with a teaching diploma, he moved to the Galilee, and taught for 10 years at the Jezre’el Valley Regional High School. He studied for his post-graduate degree in Talmud and Halacha at the Shechter Rabbinical Seminary, where he was ordained as a rabbi. Since 2008, Rabbi Hayun has been living in Haifa, serving as the rabbi of Moriah Masorti Congregation, as a volunteer in spiritual support, and in other educational roles. He is the current President of the (Masorti) Rabbinical Seminary of Israel.

Born and raised in Rishon LeZion, Haim Har-Zahav is a journalist currently working as an editor at Israel's Channel 10 News Company. Prior to his current position, he was editor-in-chief for the local TV news in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, chief political correspondent for Israel's Knesset TV channel, and parliamentary correspondent for Channel 10 News.

In January 2012, Har-Zahav was one of the founders of Israel's Journalist Organization, a trade and labor union for journalists, which became the largest in Israel, with over one-third of Israel's journalists as full members, over 70% represented by the organization. He has been a member of the leadership committee since the day the union was founded.

Yosefa Drescher was born and raised in Massuot Yitzchak. After her military service, she studied photography at Hadassah College. She worked as a staff photographer for local Jerusalem weeklies and later as a freelancer for national magazines. In 1994, Drescher moved to West Hartford, Connecticut, where she continued her work as a photographer for magazines and nonprofits. She exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, winning several awards. While in West Hartford, she helped establish the Chai Mitzvah program in the United States.

In 2010, Drescher returned to Israel, where she founded and now directs Masa Chai, a pluralistic social action and Beit Midrash program that is a subsidiary of Chai Mitzvah. She has a B.A. from the University of Hartford and an M.B.A. from the University of Haifa.

Yael Elimelech is currently the Professional Manager and Training Coordinator at Bais Yaakov High School “Afik” in Jerusalem. Previously, she was the coordinator of training at Temech, a nationally supported training association for the advancement of the employment of Haredi women. 

Elimelech is a social activist and board member at "Meoravot," a community empowerment organization for the promotion of Haredi women. In addition, she is a graduate of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, and holds a B.A. in human resource management and an M.B.A. in organizational consulting from Ono Academic College. She is a wife and mother of 12, living in Jerusalem.

From 1996-2004, Yaron Menashe worked as a parliamentary advisor to Knesset members across the political spectrum, and was simultaneously involved in the establishment of social organizations that operate according to Jewish values in the Social Center for Jewish Leadership, working among the ultra-Orthodox national religious, secular traditional, and Ethiopian communities in Israel.

Menashe has served as vice president of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, and as community center director of the Musrara and Jewish Quarter neighborhoods in Jerusalem, helping these communities develop in the areas of education, culture, employment, promotion of young people, and empowering local communities.

He is also an active figure in the Alliance Kol Israel Haverim organization, which seeks to promote a tolerant Judaism and promote social responsibility in the spirit of the Sephardic Jews. He holds a B.A. from the Hebrew University in Middle Eastern Studies, as well as an M.A. in both Islamic Studies and Public Policy and Administration from the Hebrew University.

Michal Avera Samuel is a social leader and educational activist advocating for the successful integration of Ethiopian Israelis. She has over 14 years of experience in directing educational projects and has served as the executive director of FIDEL since 2011. 

Samuel served as a research assistant to Knesset member Naomi Blumenthal in the Knesset's immigration committee, and as spokesperson and advisor to the Scholarship Fund for Ethiopian Jews in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2004, she was honored to present on the absorption and integration of the Ethiopian Israeli community at the International Lion of Judah conference in Washington, D.C.

Beyond her dedication to advancing the Ethiopian-Israeli community, Samuel serves as a board member of the Israel Center for Educational Innovation and volunteers at Women to Women in Haifa, supporting victims of domestic violence. She holds an M.A. in Educational Counseling from Haifa University and is regularly invited to lecture on the Ethiopian Israeli community's history, culture and absorption at academic institutions and schools across Israel. 

Michal Berman is the CEO of PANIM, the Association of Jewish Renewal Organizations in Israel, a federation of NGOs in Israel that advocate a Jewish, Zionist, pluralistic world view. Previously, she worked at the Central School for Holocaust Education at Yad Vashem, and for the Community Gardens Division of the Jerusalem Municipality to advance Jewish Renewal. She completed her B.A. with honors in Psychology and Jewish History and M.A. in Jewish Pluralism from the Hebrew University. In addition, Berman is a graduate of a moderator's program at Seminar Hakibbutzim. She lives in Alon with her husband and three children.

Dr. Merav Alush-Levron has lectured since 2008 at the Film and Television Department at the Tel Aviv University. She did her doctoral thesis at Bar-Ilan University, in 2008, focusing on a comprehensive study of the formation of self-identity in Israeli cinema by second and third generation Mizrahi Jews. Presently, she is a research fellow at the J. R Elyachar Center for Studies in Sephardi Heritage, at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Since the early 1990s, Alush-Levron has been a partner in a number of leading civil society initiatives in the areas of social justice and women, and minority equality. She has also served as a member of the Council of the Second Authority for Television & Radio, which supervises commercial broadcasting in Israel. Since 2013, she has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

A lifelong resident of Jerusalem, Moshe Shriki is an educator and activist. Today he serves as the director of the Beit Midrash for Social Leadership, Memizrach Shemesh-Kol Yisrael Haverim, which seeks to promote a tolerant Judaism and promote social responsibility in the spirit of the Sephardic Jews. He began his journey as an educator and activist as a student, and later joined the staff of Kedma High School, the first in a network of academic schools established in Israel's disadvantaged and peripheral communities, where he worked as a history teacher and school principal. Shriki holds a B.A. in Islam and Middle Eastern Studies from the Hebrew University and an M.A. in Democracy and Education from the Open University.

Tzipi Baider is a maker of documentary films, a leading lecturer and, for the past seven years, the head of the Documentary Department at Channel 10, Israel. As a director, she mainly deals with relationships within the family, motherhood and bereavement. Partial filmography includes Seed of Life, A War Story, Nir- It’s a Girl, and Just the Two of Us. Her personal life story was the basis of the successful documentary series Mommy Dearest with Miki Haimovitch.

At Channel 10, Baider serves as Commissioning Editor to all documentary content on Prime Time television. She is a graduate of Communication Studies at the Koteret School of Journalism and has a B.A. in Social Studies. Last year she was a member of the young leaders’ delegation to the European Parliament, and was chosen by The Marker magazine as one of the promising leaders under 40. In the past few years, Baider has also been a mentor at the Atalef Foundation of the Israeli Navy, and served as a mentor at the Leaders Organization – a program set up to promote occupational leadership for Orthodox women.

Refael Kroizer, a Jerusalem native, is the head of Beit Midrash Lema’an Daat, training and empowering rabbis and leaders in Israel’s contemporary ultra-Orthodox community to be responsive and responsible in a new era of openness and social integration. He is a graduate from the Orthodox community leadership program of the Mandel Institute, and holds a B.A. from the Hebrew University in Philosophy and Jewish Thought. Previously, he was a teaching assistant in the Hebrew University in Critical Thinking, as part of the School of Philosophy and Religions. He also studied and taught in Hevron Yeshiva, and was head of the Beit Midrash for Talmud Yerushalmi studies.

Shay Cherpanov serves as the legislative consultant of the Zionist Union party, and parliamentary assistant to the leader of the opposition. Previously, he managed the "Israeli Wedding" campaign for marriage equality in Israel, and worked as the Shatil organization coordinator for government relations for three years, which included the lobbying of Jewish pluralism. Cherpanov holds an M.A. in Law from Bar Ilan University and a B.A. in political science from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Born in the Soviet Union, he made aliya at the age of five.

A certified social worker, Shira Katz-Vinkler is CEO of the Yerushalmit Movement, which aims to strengthen Jerusalem as a pluralistic and inclusive city. She developed and implements its strategy and field operations. Yerushalmit builds communities through activism based on shared values, facilitates cultural and recreational activities on the Sabbath to enable all residents to enjoy their day of rest as they please, and many other such community-building activities.

Upon completing her IDF service in an intelligence unit, Katz-Vinkler left her hometown of Tel Aviv to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After graduating in 2002, she worked as a social worker in various positions and developed expertise in working with at-risk children. She is a board member at Presentence Israel, a leader of the "Yerushalem" coalition, and a member of the ROI community.

Dr. Tehilla Elitzur teaches Rabbinic and Halachic Literature at the Herzog College in Gush Etzion and the Matan Institute in Jerusalem. She has lectured in several conferences on subjects regarding the interface of Jewish law, society and gender. Elitzur is a member of the “Bet Hillel Rabbis, Attentive Rabbinical Leadership,” “Kolech, Religious Women Forum,” and an organization of women teaching Talmud and Halacha in academic-level institutions. She is also part of a group that leads an annual summer seminar for Israeli university students that stresses learning alongside social involvement, on behalf of the Drisha Institute in New York.

Elitzur received her degrees in Talmud and Jewish Thought from the Hebrew University, and has a PhD in Halachic Literature from Ben Gurion University. Her doctoral thesis explored Halachic philosophy and methodology of ruling in the responsa of R. Asher ben Yechiel (the Rosh).

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

Tags: Israel, gvanim


March 24, 2016


Nora Smith