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Toward Shabbat: Kedoshim

At the age of 74, the State of Israel is still considered to be a young nation. Israel and its people have accomplished much, and have much to be proud of. Yet the country continues to struggle with existential issues such as its Jewish character, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the pervasive discrimination of those who sit on the margins of society.

Israel has a lot of work to do in order to make it a safe and sustainable place. This is an overwhelming and potentially depressing fact to face, and it is not hard to look at Israel from an American vantage point and see only its deep problems. But as an Israeli living in America, with many strong ties to the country, its culture, and society, I would like to offer a different point of view about Israel’s future—one of positivity.

Personally, it is hard for me to go into despair: I am a Jerusalemite born and raised. Growing up, I experienced security tension as well as religious tension, and lived through both the first and second Intifadas, Ultra-Orthodox mass demonstrations, and Jewish right-wing demonstrations against the Rabin government in the 1990s. With all the chaos that was going on, I still saw hope through the people—which is why I’ve spent most of my adult life volunteering and working with educational and social change organizations in Israel.

After moving to New York with my wife and two boys and meeting so many non-Israelis, I realized that a lot of what is actually happening in Israel is not always seen, or is seen only in a narrow prism. As someone who always wants to see the broader picture, I felt driven to work in the field of non-formal education with a focus on Israel education, and I do my best to help others see different angles of what is happening. So on this Yom Ha’atzma-ut, I want to show you new angles by sharing some of the organizations and initiatives that are giving me hope for Israel’s future.

On a global scale, Israeli organizations such as IsraAID (founded in 2001 by Yotam Polizer to work with refugees all around the world) and TOM (launched in Israel in 2014 by the Reut Group in partnership with the ROI Community of the Schusterman Philanthropic Network) are working to create and disseminate affordable solutions to the neglected challenges faced by people with disabilities, the elderly, and the poor.

ASSAF was founded to support the 28,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. Physicians for Human Rights provides medical treatment and consulting to refugees, Palestinians in the West Bank, and Israelis in the northern and southern peripheries of the country who often lack access to quality medical care. In the field of education, MALY is working to bridge the technological divide in Israel and TALMA is enhancing English studies among children growing up in Israel’s economic and social periphery. Organizations such as Educating for Excellence and Kedma are working to address inequities in the education system in order to effect larger social change.

Our friends at Giv’at Haviva and the Abraham Initiatives are working closely to build a better future for Israel by creating a shared Jewish and Arab society. Sikkuy-Aufoq works to advance equality and partnership between Palestinian descendants and the Jewish citizens of Israel, while Co-Impact recruits and places talented Israeli-Arabs in Israeli companies.

This list is just a small sample of the amazing organizations working for the benefit of all Israelis. There are many more; I haven’t mentioned the more well-known organizations like Peace NowRabbis for Human RightsCombatants for Peace, the Arava Institute, and B’Tselem, who are working tirelessly to bring the country closer to peace, justice, dignity, and opportunity for all.

By sharing this I want to encourage you to become a part of Israel’s journey. We (now I am talking as the Israeli) need world Jewry—and especially American Jewry—to join hands with us and help Israel thrive and continue to make progress.

On Israel’s 74th Independence Day, I want our tribe to be proud of what Israel and its people have achieved—and to support those who are dedicating themselves to fulfilling the dream of Israel’s founders, that the country be a paragon of society and a light unto all the nations of the world. So, if you wish to see a change in Israel, I invite you to find your own way to help make it happen. Or as Theodor Herzl said: If you will it, it is no dream!

Happy Independence Day, my beloved country.

Written By Kobi Cohen

Kobi joined B'nai Jeshurun as the Israel Educator in 2021. A Jerusalemite born and raised, he moved to New York in 2010 with his wife, Michal, and their two sons. In Israel, Kobi worked as a politi...

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