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When inspiration comes from Israel’s gloriously varied society

6 things I learned at a seminar run by Rivon, a grassroots movement trying to save the Jewish state from itself
Rivon Harevii aims to define a cohesive, inclusive, respectful, and less toxic public discourse. (courtesy)

If you were lucky enough to attend the recent seminar of Rivon Harevii (“the Fourth Quarter”) in Beit Shemesh, you’ll already know why the Rivon’s work is so compelling. But for those of you who weren’t there, a word of explanation: The Rivon is a grassroots movement that (in my own words) aims to save Israel from internal strife by defining a more cohesive, inclusive, and respectful – and less toxic – public discourse. I was privileged to join the seminar as a session moderator.

Here’s just a taste of what I learned – or, six ways I was touched by the experience:

1. Haredi activists in the Rivon are pushing to build a stronger Israel

20% of the registrants at the seminar self-identified as Haredi. It was impressive to see this turnout, particularly since the previous seminar I participated in, which was in Jerusalem, included very few Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) participants.

My personal experience at the seminar included a discussion with a lovely Haredi couple from Ramat Beit Shemesh who shared with me their excitement about their experiences at the seminar. Their concerns about the Rivon? They mentioned the complexity of the Rivon’s messaging, which they feared might hinder its impact at the national level. We brainstormed ways to spread the Rivon’s messaging more effectively so that it could catch on faster.

The Rivon recently published a comprehensive proposal for resolving the question of the Haredi Giyus (draft), tackling “head on” the thorny issue of sharing the burden of defense more equally. The proposal was developed by a combined group of Miluimniks (IDF reservists) and Haredi activists of the Rivon, who worked together in intense dialogue, in a series of in-depth sessions. I’m putting this background “out there” to make the point that it’s pretty clear what type of changes the Rivon is supporting. It might perhaps be surprising, given this reality, that there are members of the Haredi community who are showing up to the Rivon seminars. But in fact, members of today’s Haredi community are speaking up in favor of change.

2. Iran is watching – very carefully

The fact that our enemies know and understand our internal weaknesses was hammered home dramatically when Dr. Yoav Heller, chairman of the Rivon, interviewed “Aleph,” a former senior member of the Mossad (and Rivon activist).

“Aleph” stated unequivocally that Iran has been carefully charting political developments in Israel – keeping tabs on our internal divisions and following the growing social unrest. These factors, “Aleph” stated, were a significant factor in Iran’s decision to attack Israel directly.

Since Israel’s enemies are closely observing the polarization of Israeli society and divisions that plague Israeli society, the path toward a de facto peace must involve taking the necessary steps to heal our internal divisions – working to create a more cohesive society and healthier public discourse. Bottom line: Our cohesiveness, our national unity, is crucial to our defense.

3. If these are our people – there is much cause for hope

The stories of caring, dedication and idealism that were shared during the session I facilitated instilled a genuine feeling of hope in the future:

    • One of the women at the table shared that her husband has been in Miluim (IDF reserve duty) and that she founded the Forum for the Wives of Miluimnikim (IDF reservists), an organization that has had such a significant impact at the national level that it is being honored this week with the lighting of the one of the torches at Israel’s national Yom Haatsmaut ceremony.
    • While I was still absorbing the story of this amazing woman, a second individual sitting across the table pipes up. Just a coincidence, she says, but she founded a parallel forum (the “grandmother” organization) 10 years ago, during Operation Tsuk Eitan (2014) – also, for the wives of Miluimniks.
    • Then there was the wonderful fellow running the session together with me, a grape farmer. He explained that at the beginning of the war, he had done whatever he could to try and get himself called up to Miluim. When this didn’t work out, he decided to do whatever volunteer work he could on behalf of the Rivon — that this would be his way of contributing.

While several participants shared that they’d come to the seminar feeling dreadfully pessimistic, they left with a different feeling about Israel’s future: If these are our people, we are a special people indeed.

4. There can be light even in the darkest of spaces

One participant I met is an olah (immigrant to Israel) from the UK who has been involved in promoting an educational curriculum and program developed by her late husband, to instill values such as lovingkindness and tolerance in children and cultivate positive relationships in the classroom.

Several years back, a school principal in Gaza was in touch with their organization. “Why are you interested in our curriculum?” the principal was asked. “I want to teach the children the concept of ‘An eye for an eye,’” came the response. “In Gaza, the level of aggression is such that the expectation is of NINE eyes for one eye. I want to lower it to ONE eye for an eye.”

And yes: Believe it or not, even after the start of the war, there was contact with this same school principal. (You can read more about this incredible educational organization at: www.lovingworld.com.)

5. Ben Gurion foresaw some of the social unrest we’ve experienced

Did you know….? Ben Gurion predicted some of the internal divisions and political upheaval that we’ve been experiencing over the last few years:

“The test of Zionism will be in its 70th year. By then, the children who will be born already won’t be meeting Holocaust survivors or the generation that founded the State, and the faith in the justness of our way will need to be redefined: Not on the base of what was, but on the basis of what will be.”

At the seminar, Ella Ringel, CEO of the Rivon, provided a broader historical context for some of Israel’s recent social and political challenges when she shared this prophetic statement made by Ben Gurion in 1948. Just to get the facts straight:

    • The Rivon was founded prior to October 7.
    • It was founded prior to the protests around the judicial reform.

In fact, the Rivon was established back in 2022 with the aim of ensuring that Israel would continue to be a flourishing Jewish and democratic state that benefits all of its citizens, in its fourth “quarter” – i.e., from year 75 to year 100 of its independence (and beyond).

6. The time is now — a call for cohesion

Together with so many others, at the beginning of the war I was involved in different projects to support the war effort… for example, preparing gluten-free food for two soldiers with celiac stationed at our local army base, delivering soup to soldiers on duty during the winter months, obtaining and organizing crucial equipment.

But my involvement in the Rivon gives me something different: a chance to have a part in getting us out of the social and political morass we’ve been entangled in, and to identify with the efforts being made by brave, dedicated, talented individuals to pull us into a better space and improve our nation’s future.

Speaking with the varied participants at the seminar was, in of itself, a source of chizuk (support) and inspiration. There are such a wide variety of lifestyles and opinions, there’s so much commitment to doing good, so much dedication to Am Yisrael.

Join us on May 30th (4 pm to 9 pm) at the Rivon’s annual conference in Tel Aviv. You can learn more about the upcoming conference here.

Note that the opinions shared here are my own and have not been reviewed or approved by the leadership of the Rivon.

Written with prayers for the safety of the chayalim, the return of the hostages, and the healing of the wounded.

About the Author
Aliza Israel made Aliyah 30 years ago from the US. A marketing writer for the technology sector, she lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Alex and their children.
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