Thoughts from an Israel IGI Participant

This wasn't going to be a Federation story. In fact, I now admit with some embarrassment, JCF was merely the vehicle to get me to Israel. Here's the context:

Israel is where my formative childhood years were spent, the place that kindled my love of history, longing for social justice and ability to grasp complexity. Where I first felt part of something bigger and understood the notion of peoplehood. Where I fell in love, more than once.

Yet, years – 15 in fact – had passed since my last visit, mostly because life and work had intervened, and far-flung family was my priority during hard-earned vacations. Israel would be there, I said, when the time came. I didn’t envision such a long lapse, and I certainly didn’t see my first trip back would be as part of a group. Those tour trips, I thought, were for people who had never ridden an Egged bus or eaten a Krembo or sprinkled "davka" into their conversations.

Moreover, my relationship with the organized Jewish community is an uneasy one. Partially it's because I feel more secular Israeli (owing to my kibbutz childhood) than Diaspora Jew, and this identity overrode the need, even in my American parents' minds, for Hebrew school and youth group and Jewish summer camp and a Birthright trip. If anything, I invested in my Israeli-ness, including a year abroad in high school and college studying there, during which the first intifada and Gulf War broke out, respectively, cementing my bond with the country's history.

But perhaps more significantly, my connection to the Jewish community was colored by my first job out of college, at a major Jewish organization. While I loved and respected my colleagues, the relationship with "lay leaders" baffled me – particularly the correlation between the size of the check and the influence on the organization. I didn't want to be one of those leaders and I didn't want to stay beholden to them as a professional in the non-profit world. So I left to build a career in the private sector.

Without participating in the conversation, and without contributing to the sustainability of those organizations, I held on to this view obstinately. My volunteer engagements and philanthropic giving were intimately guided by my Jewish values, but they were decidedly not in service of Jewish organizations.

And then the Federation came calling, with the intriguing opportunity to participate in the Israel Impact Grants Initiative through a collaboration with the Israel Venture Network. Israel and social enterprises focused on strengthening the democratic fabric of society are two things I am pretty passionate about. And yet, the Federation… Could I get over my view of the insularity of such an institution?

Well, thank you for taking the chance on me, JCF. Thank you, Jill Friend Davis, for listening to my concerns and reassuring me that my views and experiences would be welcome. Thank you, Siggy Rubinson and Taly Dunevich (IVN), for giving birth to this project, creating a thoughtful and engaging 6-month program in San Francisco, and overseeing an incredible week in Israel earlier this month (who would have thought – me on a group trip?). Thank you, Barak Loozon, whose soul feels so familiar, for leading a stellar team doing outstanding work in Israel. My views on the Federation were not only unfounded, but also profoundly mistaken.

So while my initial motivations for participating in the Israel IGI may have been a bit suspect, I see a new path forward in my connection to Israel and the Jewish community, and I hope to contribute to the conversation for years to come.

So it is a Federation story, after all.

Mikhal Bouganim was a participant on the Federation's May trip to Israel to explore grantees for the Israel Impact Grants Initiative program. She is the founder and principal of a strategic communications consultancy firm and serves as board chair of Rising Sun Energy Center, is a member of Full Circle Fund, and co-chair of the Presidio Knolls School parent association. She is married with two young children and lives in San Francisco. 

To learn more about the Israel IGI, contact Siggy Rubinson at 415.512.6429.
Categories: Israel, Overseas


June 22, 2014


Mikhal Bouganim