Nancy Strichman
Spotlight on Civil Society
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Building a shared society for our kids?

Israeli and Palestinian children prepare to play a soccer game at the annual 'Mini Mondial for Peace' in the central city of Herzeliya on April 9, 2017. (Efrat Saar/Peres Center for Peace and Innovation)
Israeli and Palestinian children prepare to play a soccer game at the annual 'Mini Mondial for Peace' in the central city of Herzeliya on April 9, 2017. (Efrat Saar/Peres Center for Peace and Innovation)

Over the years I have wondered what it is like for my Israeli children who grow up taking so much for granted about being Jewish in Israel. They know that their mother was able to gain Israeli citizenship as an American Jew under the Law of Return. Their school year calendar, with its tons of vacation days, is entirely in accordance with the Jewish calendar. Independence Day is happily celebrated every year in our community. They learn about Judaism and Zionism through osmosis as opposed to through a deliberate choice I would have to make if I was raising them in the United States.  

And here is what else my children currently take for granted:

They have, since the first grade, been studying three languages at our local Waldorf school in Kiryat Tivon: Hebrew, Arabic and English. When we have inevitably ended up at an emergency room over the years in any of the Haifa hospitals, my children have seen that they are as likely to be well cared for by an Arab doctor as by a Jewish doctor. For as long as they can remember, we have been spoiled by homemade za’atar spice that is regularly given to us by a close Arab friend and colleague who would never consider buying it at a grocery store.

So of course, most recently, I am wondering how this newly-passed Nation State Bill will affect them and the efforts made by so many in Israel who are working toward a shared and more equal society for everyone. As you have may have heard, Israel has now officially been declared a Jewish State by the Knesset last week. Many of the elements of the law have certainly been in practice for the past 70 years. But it is much more complicated than that, and we will be unpacking the long-term effects of this new law for generations to come.

As a researcher of nonprofits, I continue to be in awe of the many organizations that have contributed – and hopefully will continue to contribute – to the value of building a shared society for all of us.  There are Jewish-Arab nonprofits that have, over many years, consistently promoted the values of inclusivity and equality in the midst of ongoing political turmoil. These organizations are looking at both the symbolic and the practical ways of creating a society that serves and is served by all citizens of Israel. And there is so much more work that needs to be done.

According to research carried out by Avivit Hai, Program Director in Israel at the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues – a coalition of North American Jewish organizations – there are more than seventy organizations promoting shared society within Israel.

Here are just a few of their focus areas:

Hand in Hand establishes bi-lingual schools all over the country that build a community of parents and children. One of Ajeec Nispeds’ many programs offers a year of volunteer service for Bedouin Arabs and Jewish youth. Organizations like Tsofen and Collective Impact are helping the Israeli economy to thrive by ensuring that the Arab community also takes part in the ‘Start Up Nation’.

AJEEC NISPED’s Youth Volunteer Tent

There are advocacy organizations like Sikkuy and the Abraham Fund Initiatives that have worked with consecutive national governments to attract greater investments to Arab communities. Givat Haviva and Mahapach-Taghir work on identifying shared interests and nurturing partnerships between neighboring Arab and Jewish communities.

And the list goes on and on.  

It is not easy work. There are inevitable crises that test their efforts to remain focused on finding a common ground. And yet, through all the strife and discord, many of these shared organizations have not only persevered but have continued to thrive.

As can be in seen our research in the field, it may be surprising to hear that these NGO’s do not avoid conflict. Instead, they deal with it and by so doing show us that the organizations that deliberately and actively engage with tough issues often are the most effective. They have difficult conversations. They argue. And then they get back to the real work of building on what the shared interests are between the two communities.

If we believe that this work also adds value and richness to our Israeli fabric, one place to start is to consider how we set the tone for engaging with each other, how we work towards creating equal opportunities and respecting differences.

It especially falls upon us as Jewish parents to ensure that our kids know that there are Arab children just like them who also share the love of this wonderful country. And as citizens with the full rights of the majority, and in light of this new law, it is especially worthwhile to consider ways to better support the many laudable efforts of those working towards a more just and inclusive society.

AJEEC NISPED’s Youth Volunteer Tent
About the Author
Dr. Nancy Strichman teaches graduate courses in evaluation and strategic thinking at the Hebrew University’s Glocal program, a masters degree in International Development. Her research has focused on civil society, specifically on shared society NGOs and gender equality in Israel. She lives in Tivon, Israel with her four children and her very patient husband.
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