Ringing in the New Year in Israel

Three Grantee Powerhouses Prepare for an Exciting 2015

New Year celebrations in Israel are always a bit... awkward. With two calendars in use throughout the country – the Jewish lunar calendar and the civil Gregorian one – we typically reserve “Happy New Year” for our greetings at Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year. So when New Year’s Eve comes around you’ll finally find the Israeli population at a loss for words. While Tel Aviv never misses a reason to party, there are no country-wide countdowns, no rampant New Year’s resolutions, and it’s business as usual on January 1.

But, here at the Federation’s office in Israel, we are sticking to our American roots and looking at the debut of 2015 as a time to plan a year of social justice, community activism, and leadership enrichment.

We do this on the heels of a harrowing year. Let’s face it: 2014 was no picnic. The Middle East turned from unstable to explosive, bringing names like Da’ish and ISIS to kitchen tables worldwide. Operation Protective Edge was waged to destroy the terror tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel with casualties on both sides, and heightened anti-Semitism worldwide translated into a bittersweet 32% increase in immigration to Israel.

We have our work cut out for us, with an ever-increasing need to find ways to decrease tensions between Jews and Arabs, promote socio-economic mobility for all Israeli residents, and all the while ensuring mutual respect of civil liberties.

As such, the Federation is proud to introduce a trio of grantee leaders who have fresh, innovative energy, and who know how to turn a good idea into successful programming – all young women who are creating positive change in their communities, and in Israel at-large. Here’s what they are looking forward to in 2015:

Sigal Kanotopsky: CEO, Olim Beyahad

Meet Sigal Kanotopsky. Sigal heads Olim Beyahad, an organization that works to integrate Ethiopian-Israeli university graduates into Israel’s economy, and to create a group of leaders who will pave the way for other graduates in the community. She is a graduate of Olim Beyahad's second class for university graduates, and of the organization's Executives' course, and is currently participating in Gvanim, the Federation’s flagship program in Israel. In Sigal’s own words:

"Last year, Olim Beyahad went through significant changes that shifted the management of the organization from the founders who started it in 2007 to graduates of our core program, including myself and about 15 of my cohorts, who now work with me in managing the organization. This shift is testament to the fundamental goals we have of empowering our community to not only integrate into Israeli society, but also become its leaders.

“Ultimately, I’m working hard towards eliminating the need for Olim Beyahad as we know it today, hoping to decrease the need for our core programming which works to facilitate employment and, instead, focus on strengthening our graduates so that they will be poised for key positions, exactly as my cohort has now joined the current management.

“We have come a long way in our society to be tolerant of ‘the Other’ and, although the path is long, I see a positive trend among employers, and we will be working hard this year to accelerate this upward trajectory. I also hope to extend our programming to younger Ethiopians, knowing that the sooner we are able to strengthen their identities as Ethiopians and Israelis, the more likely they are to steer themselves in a positive direction. Ideally, I want to move forward beyond the difficult aliyahs, beyond housing and employment obstacles, and be able to re-design Olim Beyahad to fit the changing and improving needs of our community."

Bader Abbas Hussein: Knowledge Development Manager, Neurim Program, Ma’ase

The youth in Israel’s northern Druze and Circassian communities are in a better place today because of Bader Abbas Hussein, manager of the Ma’ase Neurim program for the past five years. Since 2010, the Federation has been part of a consortium established to strengthen the educational infrastructure within Druze society and empower this minority by providing leadership development and volunteerism to Druze youth. The Neurim program operates in 14 Druze villages in the Western Galilee and Carmel regions, serves more than 3,000 children and young people in informal enrichment and educational activities for youth and young adults, and provides leadership development with the help of over 90 volunteers.

Bader is one of the few women in the Druze community who has lead and managed a project of this magnitude and was recently chosen by leading business magazine The Marker as one of the most promising young leaders in Israel today. She makes no secret of her desire to someday create change as a member of the Israeli Knesset.

"In 2015, we plan to intensify the Neurim program’s impact, and expand its spheres of influence,” Bader explains.

“On the heels of several successful years of operation, we hope that more parents and members of the Druze and Circassian communities will recognize the opportunity and potential that having an active, lively youth center brings to the community at large, a center that supports values-driven dialogue followed by social action. The Neurim program aims to influence youth and personally empower them so that they may become leaders in our community, aware of social issues and armed to contribute to its betterment.

“With that in mind, we are looking to develop and expand our youth programs to other communities in need and, in 2015, to pilot a program in the Negev for Bedouin youth who, like Druze and Circassian youth, are thirsty for comprehensive and profound programming. Such youth centers may very well fill a void for Bedouin youth and their community as a whole."

Elisheva Mazya: CEO, New Spirit

In 2003, a group of five idealistic students from the Hebrew University founded New Spirit with one dream: to ensure Jerusalem’s rightful place as a young, vibrant, pluralistic and attractive city as befits the capital of Israel. Leading the way then and now is Elisheva Mazya, a recent Gvanim graduate. She has served as part of the President’s Young-Adult Forum and, in 2012, Elisheva was chosen as one of the top five most influential women in Jerusalem. Today, New Spirit’s programs and services reach over 15,000 young adults as they work to rejuvenate Jerusalem by cultivating a young Jewish lay leadership through targeted projects and events.

"New Spirit is fighting the flight of young social activists and the creative class from Israel’s capital city,” says Elisheva.

“This population is central in the city’s economic infrastructure and serves as ‘agents of change,’ pioneering the fight for the city’s pluralistic Jewish character.

“I see 2015 as a transformational year in New Spirit. Over the past 6 months I have started a long and fascinating process that we hope to complete by the end of the year, a joint venture with the Israeli government, the Jerusalem municipality and New Spirit. Together we are designing a significant planning process for a municipal plan to get Jerusalem to become a magnet for the young creative class, based on the innovative economic-growth theory of Professor Richard Florida.

“Today, New Spirit is in the right position to influence the future of Jerusalem’s creative class, and I hope we will accomplish my very high expectations and challenges in terms of the content-planning process and capacity building we are planning together with Mayor Nir Barkat and the Israeli government. We are looking forward to an intensive year full of promise."

To learn more about the Federation's grantees in Israel, contact Siggy Rubinson.

Categories: Israel, Overseas, Grantees


January 16, 2015