Seeking a Shared Society in Israel

Grantee Profile: Mifras

The Federation’s grantmaking strategy in Israel is directed at bringing about social change that supports a just, pluralistic and democratic society. With a focus on building a shared society, the Federation is actively working to encourage collaboration among the country’s many distinct religious and ethnic groups so that each may take ownership in the overreaching goal of strengthening civil society.

Here’s an example of one such effort. Mifras is a Federation grantee that aims to stimulate entrepreneurship among school principals through regional incubators, as a relevant and proactive response to the current needs and challenges of the Israeli education system. While Mifras’ stated goal does not mention strengthening a shared society in Israel, practically speaking, that’s exactly what they are doing.

The incubator in Israel’s southern region was nearly closed this fall due to the Gaza war. But Mifras managed to assemble a diverse group of school principals, which includes a Haredi man from Netivot (near Gaza), three principals from the Bedouin city of Rahat (including the first female principal in their community), and others from surrounding southern cities.

The Mifras participants may have never otherwise met, let alone shared a carpool to Tel Aviv last month to attend a Mifras conference, together with their respective staff members. During these few hours together, a Haredi principal and his staff had the unprecedented opportunity to spend quality time with the female Bedouin principal and her staff. Both groups were so mutually inspired as to schedule a site visit of Haredi educators to learn from their Bedouin colleagues in Rahat – all a consequence of the Mifras initiative.

“This is a testament to the self-motivation of this group that otherwise wouldn’t have gathered, and the resulting healthy connections that were made between two different principals from completely different populations, from different viewpoints, whose joint experience reveals a sudden common ground for mutual learning,” explained Dr. Bat Chen Weinheber of Mifras.

A meeting of school principals in the Mifras "Entrepreneurship Incubators," who seek to promote significant change and initiatives at their schools

Yet another show of overt solidarity came just two weeks ago after a young Bedouin man was killed by police during a drug raid, becoming a flashpoint of protest and anger in Israel recently. The Bedouin community rioted and municipal workers went on strike, including the teachers. The Bedouin principals were put in an awkward position, as their scheduled Mifras meeting was to take place on the day of the strike. While their entire community was in chaos, their commitment to the group – the other Mifras principals – meant that they found a way to leave their families and their community and attend the scheduled meeting.

After hearing of the hardship they endured in order to participate at the meeting, along with other difficult issues that surfaced during the unrest, their fellow Mifras colleagues urged them to return to their community and the meeting was rescheduled, but not until each of the Bedouin principals was able to share the complexity of their position with the others, whose support was overwhelming. The Bedouin principals were overcome with the show of support, the genuine help that was offered to them, and there’s no doubt that sturdy bridges were built as a result.

“The learning process in this group is outstanding,” Dr. Weinheber noted. “Things are happening there like mutual learning, listening and hearing of one another, professional consultation and encouragement and even humor and friendship. The group has made significant connections that just weren’t there before.”

While each principal has joined Mifras to creatively problem-solve the educational challenges facing his/her prospective community, the connections that have been forged are astonishing. In the name of education, Mifras has managed to seat around one table seemingly divergent representatives who are discovering the advantages of engaging in diverse dialogue.

It’s hard to believe that the Haredi principal began his journey with Mifras having never sat down to learn with either women or Arabs. Dispelling stereotypes, discovering common ground, working together, bettering the future of Israeli children – this is what creating a shared society in Israel means, and this is the kind of initiative that the Federation is proud to be supporting.

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

Categories: Israel, Overseas, Grantees


February 24, 2015