Jewish Federation NEPA’s Executive Director, Daniel Chejfec, Ph.D

The day started with workshops, and the decision on which to attend was not an easy one. I chose to start with the workshop on “75 Years of Israeli Democracy – Understanding What’s Motivating the Largest Protest Movement in Israeli History.” The speakers were Brigadier General (res) Asaf Agmon, one of the leaders of the protest movement, Ph.D. candidate and disabled IDF veteran Yiftah Golov, and Ronit Harpaz, cofounder and CEO of Endoron Medical. All three speakers emphasized that this movement is not about politics and that it brings together people on the right and the left behind a common goal to defend Israel from what they perceive as an attack on its democratic institutions. They called for a dialogue between the sides, and Brigadier General Agmon went as far as to mention the need for Israel to codify the basic Laws into a Constitution.


My second workshop was on Religion and State in Israel@75 with Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Ross Yeshivah of Ohr Torah, Orly Likhovski from the Israel Action Center, ODed Forer, Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset Member, and Dr. Estee Indursky from Tel Aviv University, coordinated by Amir Tibon, Senior Editor of HaAretz. The speakers addressed the tensions that exist between Religion and the State and gave a brief summary of how the current relationships were forged over time since the days of Ben Gurion. The point they all agreed on was that the current state of affairs is unhealthy and that promoting a wider dialogue between Haredim and Hilonim is important to find the common ground necessary to redefine the balance between the secular state and the religious establishment. ODed Forer went as far as saying that while he always opposed the idea of separation of religion and state in Israel, the current tensions demand that the issue be discussed openly and without preconceptions.


My third workshop was about Israeli innovation and how it is driving global change through a healthy partnership between the state and the private sector. The presenters were Prof Dan Blumberg from Ben Gurion University, Dr. Talía Solar, CEO of Genética+, Shimon Elkabetz, CEO of Tomorrow.Io, and Ofek Ron, CEO of Plantish. Each of the presenters described their partnerships with both, other companies as well as the government, and how that synergy allowed them to take the necessary risks to explore new frontiers in science, engineering, and medicine.


We then had the afternoon Plenary which brought many people on stage who benefitted from our Federation work, either directly or through outreach partners at the Jewish Agency and the Joint (JDC). The most impressive of the presentation was done by an Orthodox Woman, Chani Sabag, and an Arab Israeli woman, Amira Qassem. They jointly started, with the help of the JDC, an organization called Jobs 360, which they now manage jointly as co-CEOs. They work with Haredi and Muslim women, preparing them for the Job Market, from writing a resume, choosing the right job, and how to interview, etc., they are making a very significant impact on the integration of women into the Israeli workforce, and their interaction on stage also gave hope for the coexistence between the two communities.


After the Plenary we departed for Latrun, where we participated in a very emotive commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, with stories about the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism over the last twelve months as well as a recognition of antisemitic violence by remembering the Tree of Life attack in Pittsburgh. The program was presented by Massa, a program from the Jewish Agency for young Jews from the Diaspora. It is difficult to describe the feelings we went through when listening to the parents, siblings, and children of those who died, as well as the emotional songs accompanying the ceremony, which included El Maleh Rahamim and the Kaddish. There is no way that I can adequately transfer to paper what went through my heart and my mind. In all the times I’ve been in Israel, I never participated in a memorial like this, which brings home the price we have paid, as a people, to have a Jewish State.


Tomorrow we will join Israelis from different parts of society in visiting the sites connected with Yom HaZikaron and learn about them.


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