The Palestinian professor who touched off a maelstrom of controversy by taking a group of students to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in Poland is now at odds with his former employer after the school accepted his resignation.
Dr. Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who headed the American studies department and served as chief librarian at Al-Quds University, stirred up controversy among Palestinians who felt the March trip was inappropriate. Although the participants were all students at Al-Quds, Dajani said that the trip itself was under the aegis of Wasatia, the nongovernmental organization that he heads whose goal is to “promote a culture of moderation and reconciliation between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.” But when the trip became a public issue, criticism was leveled at the school and the professor. Dajani said he received threats and the employee and student unions, to which he did not belong, formally banned him from membership. On May 18, Dajani submitted his resignation from Al-Quds University.
Incoming university president Imad Abukishek said he was surprised by the resignation, given the lengths he said the school went to on Dajani’s behalf. “We thought he noticed what we did for him and that he would respect what we did for him,” Abukishek said, citing two university-assigned security guards hired to protect Dajani and the school’s attempt to confront the unions to demand the rescinding of the ban issued against the professor.
Dajani, however, said he saw the university’s response in a different light. In his letter of resignation addressed to outgoing university president Sari Nusseibeh, Dajani charged that as a result of the fallout from the Auschwitz trip, “the educational environment on this campus for teaching and learning is not available at your university, which makes it difficult to practise my mission to educate and practise academic freedom.”
In a statement, the administration strongly disagreed, citing the school’s efforts to “act promptly and effectively to deal with the actions” of the two unions and the hiring of the bodyguards. The administration insisted that Al-Quds did all it could do “to deal with the repercussions of his visit,” and did so even though it “was being made to deal with ‘an external activity carried out by Prof. Dajani in his private capacity as the CEO of an independent NGO, which he runs [that] … had nothing to do with the university.’” The statement added that the school did all it could “to ensure that individuals, including Prof. Dajani, had the right to express their views freely, and to act freely within the confines of the law, without fear of intimidations or threats.”
Left to right are Shoshana Burton, Fred Miller and Jessie Claudio. (photo by Shula Klinger)
School curriculum can seem abstract, separate from the “real” world for which it is intended to prepare our children. What can a teacher do to bring the world into her classroom? She can take the classroom into the world.
This is what teacher Shoshana Burton, now of Richmond Jewish Day School, has been doing for many years. Random Acts of Kindness, or RAC (Random Acts of Chesed), week began at King David High School after the sudden death in 2010 of alumna Gabrielle Isserow z’l. Known for her tremendous kindness, it was an apt way to ease the students’ grief. Explained Burton, “RAC week transformed the students’ overwhelming sense of loss into a creative expression of chesed. It revealed a yearning for a network of support and action.”
The project gained momentum and the weeklong celebration of kindness has become “a yearlong process that grows every year, involving students, families and the wider Jewish community.”
Working at RJDS for the 2013-14 academic year, Burton wanted to add a new dimension to the project. She approached Richmond’s nearby Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy. It was a perfect match, as their principal explains on the school’s website, “Education goes well beyond the classroom door.”
Az-Zahraa teacher Jessie Claudio came on board with no hesitation and, over the last few months, the students have formed some powerful new connections. According to Burton, “We had to pull RJDS and AZIA students away from each other when it was time to go back to school!”
The new program was named Abraham’s Tent because the prophet Abraham – revered in both Islam and Judaism – was known for his generous hospitality.
In February of this year, Burton and Claudio took their students on an unusual field trip: to the centre of the Downtown Eastside, to Main and Hastings. There, they spent five days delivering sandwiches they had made, with food donated by Save-On-Foods at Ironwood, Richmond. They also handed out warm clothes.
According to RJDS parent Kathy Rabinovitch-Marliss, this trip challenged the students to leave their comfort zone and set aside any apprehensions or thoughts of judgment. She counseled her daughter, Hannah, to remember that every homeless man is “someone’s father, or someone’s son.”
Among the recipients of the group’s kindness was Fred Miller, 58, caught by a CBC camera as he observed, “If Muslim and Jewish kids can live together, why can’t the rest of the world live together?”
These words inspired the RAC students to find out more. With the help of CBC, they managed to find Miller downtown. They invited him to speak at RJDS, which ended with a massive group hug. On the RJDS blog, principal Abba Brodt describes Miller’s “unflinching” honesty as he answered the students’ questions with stories from his life. Having struggled with addiction for many years, Miller’s experiences made a change from the usual Grade 7 fare, such as The Outsiders. Brodt said the discussion covered, “spiritual strength, faith, addiction, poverty, broken family bonds and deep loneliness.” The students were “spellbound,” he added.
Abraham’s Tent gained recognition with a $3,000 award in a worldwide competition hosted by Random Acts, a nonprofit whose goal is to inspire acts of kindness. But it’s not just about the prize, of course. Claudio and Burton agree that the learning outcomes here go far beyond the regular curriculum. Said Claudio, it has been an excellent opportunity to “bring the textbook to life.” The best way to learn something, she said, is through the emotions.
And, when the students start to form their own opinions about the Jewish-Muslim conflict, Burton hopes that these friendships will remind them to be “tolerant and open-minded.”
Rather than keeping the $3,000 award for their own schools, the RJDS and Az-Zahraa students chose to give the money to Covenant House in Vancouver, a shelter for at-risk youth.
Mohamed A. Dewji, vice-president of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre, challenged British Columbia’s Shia Muslim community to match the $3,000 award – and they came through. Dewji hopes to spur other communities into action. “We’re challenging every church, every mosque, every temple to join us,” he said.
On Friday, June 7, the student group delivered both $3,000 cheques to Covenant House. They also brought boxes of shoes for the residents. George Clarke, manager of Save-On-Foods at Ironwood, Richmond, brought a gift basket packed with necessities for Miller. The atmosphere was jubilant. Jessica Harman, development officer at Covenant House, described her contact with the RAC students as “marvelous.” She added that their donations “are providing love and support to one youth in the crisis shelter for the entire month of June.”
A soft-spoken and articulate man, Miller told the Independent, “It doesn’t end here. I want to work with youth now.” Having already published a set of his stories, he is honing his craft in a journalism class.
Ruby Ravvin, a Grade 7 RJDS student, described Miller as “awesome!” He then ruffled her hair.
The students have created a binder full of cards to help brighten Miller’s day when he feels lonely. In a letter, Breanne Miller (RJDS, Grade 7, no relation to Fred Miller) speaks of inspiration, wisdom and not taking the good things in life for granted. “You have opened my eyes,” she wrote. “You inspired all of us.”
Prior to her involvement in RAC, student Hannah Marliss had never had a conversation with a homeless person, nor did she have any close Muslim friends. Now, she said, “We’re hoping to invite the Az-Zahraa students to our grad. We’ve started something together!”
She described the change she has experienced in her own life. “Life’s not about technology, iPads and iPhones. They’re just things,” she said. “It’s about family, people you have connections with.”
On a scale of one to 10, the RAC experience was “definitely a 10,” said Hannah. Her mother agreed: “This was the highlight of Hannah’s elementary school life. It has changed all of our lives,” said Rabinovitch-Marliss.
Omid Gha, a counselor at Az-Zahraa, summed up the experience with a quote from Aristotle: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Shula Klinger is a freelance writer living in North Vancouver.
Rabbi Philip Bregman is a longstanding leader in the Jewish community. He served as senior rabbi at Temple Sholom for 33 years and is still connected with the congregation as rabbi emeritus. He is co-founder of the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, maintains an active role on the University of British Columbia chaplaincy and serves as co-chair for Vancouver’s Jewish-Christian Dialogue group. He joined Vancouver Hillel Foundation during its transition period and is now the executive director of the organization, which officially became Hillel BC Society last month.
Hillel has been a centre for Jewish life on campus at UBC since 1947. Bregman would like to expand on its foundation, diversifying the programming and making it more available to young Jewish adults throughout the Lower Mainland.
The purpose of Hillel BC Society, explained Bregman, “is to help facilitate the growth of young Jewish souls and minds, socially, mentally, gastronomically, intellectually, politically. To understand what does it mean for you to be a Jew in the world today…. We are trying to grow young Jewish adults and start from wherever they are starting and give them a sense that this is a home, this is a safe space and, for some, a continuation of their Jewish journey and, for others, a beginning of their Jewish journey.”
As in most Jewish homes, food plays an integral role at Hillel BC. Noting that Hillel provides “some of the best food in the city in terms of good, nutritional, tasty, delicious food, kosher food,” Bregman said, “A lot of our programs operate around food as a way of getting individuals into the building. Then, once we have them in the building, we have other programs to offer them as well. For example, a barbeque may very well be the thing that brings the individual into the building, but we also may happen to have a faculty member here from Jewish studies who will be teaching Talmud” or, “on Friday mornings, come for the most phenomenal shakshuka, but what comes with the shakshuka is also a discussion about Israel, social, political, religious discussions.”
Hillel BC’s reach extends beyond the Jewish community of UBC. “We do a lot of collaboration,” said Bregman. “We have done collaboration with the synagogues, we have done collaboration with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, we do collaborations with CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and so we are giving educational opportunities…. We teach Hebrew, we have Judaism 101 courses, and we have the opportunity to engage in dialogue programs with different Muslim student associations, with the Pakistani student association … aboriginal student organizations on campus and various Christian groups, as well.”
Hillel offers many students leadership opportunities because a lot of programming comes “from a collaboration between the programs’ staff and the Hillelniks, so some things are initiated by us and some things are initiated by the students themselves.”
Young Jewish adults at Hillel BC have the opportunity to get “involved in tikkun olam, in helping to repair the world…. We make peanut butter and jam [sandwiches] with the Ismaili Students’ Association. The sandwiches get taken down to the Downtown Eastside.” There are also various clothing drives or food bank drives, he said. Additionally, Hillel offers many students leadership opportunities because a lot of programming comes “from a collaboration between the programs’ staff and the Hillelniks, so some things are initiated by us and some things are initiated by the students themselves.”
Bregman is moving Hillel towards more diverse programming and events, “so a person can come into this building and see we are involved with a multiplicity of ideas.” This approach is reflected in the organization’s recent rebranding. “We are no longer Vancouver Hillel Foundation, we are Hillel BC Society and this came from the staff,” Bregman explained. “The idea of being Vancouver Hillel was too centrist and too isolating…. [It] makes no sense when one of our places we are dealing with is Burnaby or one of the places we are dealing with is Victoria and wherever else that I hope to open up in the next little while.”
Hillel BC is working to engage young Jewish adults in new ways because “the old paradigm of how to deal with things doesn’t hold anymore … you cannot depend on Jewish identity if you are only planting two trees, [focusing only on] Israel and [the] Holocaust. Are they important? Of course, they are. But so is social integration and Jewish identity in terms of what it means today, and so is asking, ‘How do I live in this world?’… So, the challenges are to provide the opportunities to individuals to see Hillel as a springboard for many other things.”
“Our major issue is around funding, it is around finance. There is a statement in the Talmud, ‘Ein kemach, ein Torah.’ Without wheat, referring to the substance, the money, if there is no money, there is no Torah and, if there is no Torah, there is no money….”
Bregman said, “Our challenges are not in the areas of programming, and I’m pleased to say not in the areas of staffing. I have an absolutely magnificent staff.” He said, “Our major issue is around funding, it is around finance. There is a statement in the Talmud, ‘Ein kemach, ein Torah.’ Without wheat, referring to the substance, the money, if there is no money, there is no Torah and, if there is no Torah, there is no money…. We are providing the Torah, the programming,” but “what we need, of course, is the financial means to continue this and that’s the greatest challenge.”
Bregman is positive about the future of Hillel BC Society. “This year, my first year, I came in and we were serving three campuses. We now serve five because I opened up Langara and I opened up Emily Carr,” he said. “Now, I’m looking to see what else needs to be opened up in the Lower Mainland, where we think there is some type of Jewish presence, because what has happened at Langara and Emily Carr has been tremendously successful.”
He emphasized, “I want Hillel there as a torchbearer and as an or l’goyim, a light unto the nations, to let people know that when you come into Hillel, you have a multiplicity of opportunities to meet all sorts of individuals, politicians, social activists, philosophers, individuals with unbelievably great hearts and souls.”
Zach Sagorin is a Vancouver freelance writer. He is on the board of the Jewish Students’ Association.
Reuven Rivlin votes in the presidential election in the Knesset. (photo by Ashernet)
On June 10, Israel’s 120-seat parliament chose longtime Likud member Reuven Rivlin as the country’s next president. He will succeed Shimon Peres, who retires next month at the age of 90.
Rivlin, who served two terms as speaker of the Knesset, has been a member of parliament for almost 20 years. He won on the second round of voting, beating out rival Knesset member Meir Sheetrit in that round. He said that he will serve the entire public.
“This [Likud] party was my home as I said it would be until I was legally obligated to leave it. Now, I am no longer a party man, I am no longer a faction man. I am everybody’s man. A man of the people,” Rivlin told the Knesset.
An American neo-Nazi group cannot inherit the estate of a New Brunswick man, a court in that province ruled June 5.
In a 43-page decision, Justice William Grant of the Court of Queen’s Bench invalidated the will of the late Harry Robert McCorkill, a retired chemistry professor who bequeathed all of his assets to the National Alliance, a West Virginia-based racist and antisemitic group.
Grant ruled that such a bequest must be voided because the National Alliance “stands for principles and policies … that are both illegal and contrary to public policy in Canada.”
Grant stated that the group’s propaganda “would unavoidably lead to violence” because it “incites hatred of various identifiable groups which they deem to be non-white and, therefore, unworthy.”
Its founder was William Pierce, who wrote the condemned novel The Turner Diaries in 1978, which advocated a race war to eradicate non-whites and Jews from the United States.
McCorkill of Saint John, N.B., who died in 2004, became a National Alliance member in 1998 and lived in its compound. His estate is valued at about $280,000.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which was an intervener in the case along with B’nai Brith Canada, commended Grant for his judgment.
“This was a strong statement indicating that it is against Canadian public policy to bequeath money to organizations that spread hate,” said CIJA president David Koschitzky. “Today, we are fortunate that the National Alliance is a severely diminished group, barely holding on to its shrinking membership.
“The threat was that an injection of about a quarter-million dollars might have breathed new life into this dying organization. Let this decision stand as a stark reminder that we must remain ever vigilant in our efforts to not allow such hate-mongers the oxygen to spread their toxic vitriol.”
McCorkill’s sister, Isabelle Rose McCorkill, had gone to court to block the inheritance.
Canada’s Israeli embassy and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa say that an art exhibit on display at Ottawa City Hall’s Karsh-Masson Gallery glorifies Palestinian terrorism and have urged the city to review its policy on how exhibits are approved.
The exhibit, Invisible, by Palestinian-born, Toronto-based artist Rehab Nazzal, includes photographs of some of the most notorious Palestinian terrorists, including Abu Iyad, who was responsible for the 1972 Munich Games massacre, and Khalid Nazzal, the artist’s brother-in-law, who was the mastermind behind the Ma’alot school massacre that killed 22 children and three adults 40 years ago.
Eitan Weiss, spokesperson and head of public diplomacy for the Israeli embassy in Canada, said the embassy was moved to contact Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson when it learned that the city was “endorsing it and, not only that, but paying for it. They are funding a lot of this with taxpayers’ money.”
Artists are paid about $1,800 to have their work displayed at the gallery.
“The artist is portraying these people as innocent Palestinians, authors, writers, cartoonists, politicians who were assassinated by Israel,” Weiss said. “We’re talking about terrorists with blood on their hands.”
Ottawa Federation president and chief executive officer Andrea Freedman said, “It’s a hurtful exhibit in the fact that it glorifies Palestinian terrorists, so it’s highly problematic that it is funded by taxpayers’ dollars and it has no place in City Hall.”
She said Federation has called on the city to shut down the exhibit, which is scheduled to run until June 22.
In an email statement to the CJN, deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos explained that the exhibit is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it won’t be taken down prematurely.
All exhibits at the gallery are selected by an independent jury and the themes of each exhibit do not represent the views of the City of Ottawa, he said.
“To exhibit a work of art is not to endorse the work or the vision, ideas and opinions of the artist. It is to uphold the right of all to experience diverse visions and views.”
However, following meetings with Ottawa Federation and Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, the mayor agreed to review the policy governing the selection process of the gallery’s artwork, which has been in place since 1993.
Nazzal told the Ottawa Citizen that the decision by the city to review the policy has her “concerned about the future of artists showing work of significance.”
Although Freedman said she’s disappointed the exhibit remains open, “the main thing from our perspective is that the city … will be reviewing and revising their policies so that in the future, no other community will have to experience this.”
Weiss said the purpose of the meeting between the ambassador and the mayor was not to shut down the exhibit.
“We understand their constraints because, at the end of the day, they are aware of the fact that this is a problematic exhibition, and they claim that their hands are tied due to legal constraints in terms of taking it down,” he said.
“We’re just trying to expose reality and expose the truth and use this moment as a teaching moment and tell the Canadian audience that if you want to know why Israelis and Palestinians haven’t reached a peace agreement, this is the reason why. Palestinians enshrine terrorists, they commemorate and glorify them, and this is something that is unacceptable. Imagine what people would have said if the pictures of the 9/11 terrorists would have been there,” Weiss said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to showcase the Palestinian propaganda and how they tend to twist the reality and change the truth to suit their narrative, which is completely false in this case. This is our objective in this.”
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.
A Lufthansa Airbus A320 takes off at Berlin Tegel Airport. From legacy carriers such as Lufthansa to low-cost carriers such as Great Britain’s easyJet, new flights to and from Israel are popping up all over the grid following the EU-Israel Open Skies agreement. (photo by Lasse Fuss vis Wikimedia Commons)
In the months since Israel and the European Union officially signed their Open Skies travel agreement, providing all European and Israeli airlines with equal opportunities to launch direct service to and from Tel Aviv, a slew of airlines are already hard at work trying to expand their offerings.
From legacy carriers including Lufthansa German Airlines to low-cost carriers such as Great Britain’s easyJet, new flights to and from Israel are popping up all over the grid. And Israeli airlines are also getting in on the action, with the country’s flagship carrier, El Al, announcing additional routes to Europe, as well as the launch of its own low-cost brand called Up, which was scheduled to begin service to European destinations this spring.
While the agreement does not come into full effect for all airlines until 2018, Mark Feldman, who has been in the travel business for more than 30 years and is currently chief executive officer of the Jerusalem-based travel agency Zion Tours, explained in an interview that, due to “a grandfather clause, an airline like easyJet, which already began its service from London to Tel Aviv four years ago, can already go ahead and expand.”
The Frank family on the Merwedeplein, May 1941. (photo from AFF BASEL, CH / AFS AMSTERDAM, NL)
Since her diary was first published in 1947, Anne Frank’s story has reached many millions of readers. Her precocious wisdom, her courage and her unswerving faith in the goodness of humanity are humbling. Many young readers encounter Anne’s work at school, as an introduction to their study of the Holocaust. Readers find a focus for their curiosity, grief and raw outrage in the fate of Anne and her family. But how do we ensure that this history truly is for “today”? And how do we help them make sense of a troubled world that has descended into horrifying chaos? These harsh lessons are currently being explored through Anne Frank – A History for Today, currently housed at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
According to Nina Krieger, VHEC’s executive director, this exhibit has seen “unprecedented numbers” of visitors – of all ages and ethnic backgrounds – at the centre’s Sunday openings. There are visitors during the week, of course, as well as school groups who tour the exhibit under the guidance of the centre’s docents. In addition to the training docents receive from VHEC education director Adara Goldberg, this exhibit has been guided by the exhibit’s Amsterdam staff, who traveled to Vancouver to offer their support.
On May 29, the JI accompanied Grade 6 and 7 students from King’s School in Langley as they toured the exhibit with docent Lise Kirchner. Described by their teacher Peter Langbroek as “cogent, clear and informative,” Kirchner moved swiftly between the display boards. Pausing frequently to ask questions, she encouraged the students at every step, reinforcing and building on their answers. What are these children wearing? asked Kirchner, referring to an image of Hitler Youth in uniform. Why did the children have to join this organization? One student replied astutely, “Because they are the next generation.”
The class group also included school parents, who were clearly invested in the day’s lessons. The presence of parents is extremely important, Langbroek explained, because students often need to talk through their reactions later on, not just in class or during the ride home. “It helps to have a facilitator at the dinner table,” he said. This was evident in the comments heard around the display cases, as mothers discussed their own questions. “Would you put your own family at risk?” one mom asked.
In line with the policy of Holocaust education centres worldwide, VHEC recommends their exhibits for children of 10 and up. According to Krieger, “Grade 5 is standard practice for Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Centre; our community bases its offerings on best pedagogical practice and current research.”
When asked about his reasons for bringing his students to the exhibition, Langbroek explained that this is his 27th year in the classroom, and his reasons for doing so were spiritual – his is a Christian school – and personal, as well as professional.
“There are so many life lessons taught in this history,” he said. “By informing youth of this history and showing how bullying is a small-scale version of state-sponsored brutality, we can help train them in God’s righteousness.”
Raised by Dutch parents, Langbroek’s mother saw Jews being arrested and taken away in trucks; two of his uncles took Jews into their homes. An avid reader of Chaim Potok’s work, Langbroek has long been fascinated by “the pockmarked history of pogroms, exiles and forced conversions that took place in the Christian era.” He said he struggles with the atrocities committed in the name of a savior who set himself “the highest moral standard.” He added, “To me, it would only be natural for a Christian to risk his life to hide Jews.”
As well as the photographs and information on the boards, the exhibition room at the VHEC includes a 3-D model of the building and annex where the Franks were hidden. The students were clearly interested in the model and there was much crowding around, leaning in and craning of necks. Here, Kirchner honed in on the Franks’ living conditions, supported by a few trusted friends with shared food rations and occasional treats, like magazines. How do you occupy yourself when you are stuck inside for two years? she asked the students to consider. What about during the Allied bombing raids? Everyone else was hiding underground, in shelters, while Anne was in an attic at the top of a tall building. She couldn’t go down and risk being caught, noted Kirchner, but there were bombs landing all around them.
The exhibition also includes five glass cases housing original artifacts, saved by local Holocaust survivors. These items are particularly valuable, said Krieger. “A document is an eyewitness to the time.”
In a recent article for VHEC’s newsletter, Zachor, Kirchner talks about these donations from local survivors. She says that they help students to develop a personal relationship with Holocaust history. For example, in one case, students are able to see the yellow star worn by Inge Manes before she was hidden in a convent and confirmed as a Catholic. In another case, there is a medal showing that her rescuer was honored by Yad Vashem for bravery. The personal connections formed during these visits are an education that lasts a lifetime. Krieger refers to this as an “ongoing resonance.”
The King’s School students clearly appreciated the artifacts. They were given copies of an identity document belonging to Regina Bulvik. Asked to interpret the information it carried, they learned that she was the sole survivor of the Holocaust in her family, and had traveled to Canada alone, with no papers. At that time, she was still a teenager and was required to have a Jewish sponsor family here before being allowed to immigrate. The students pored over this document, scrutinizing it carefully as they responded to Kirchner’s questions.
On returning to school, the students’ comments about the exhibit were telling. They spoke about justice, love and kindness. They showed gratitude for their freedoms and their desire to live well with God.
Vanessa contemplated the inner life of the Franks, who “probably felt guilty because their Jewish friends and family were sent to concentration camps while they were hiding and getting help.”
Added Hannah, “I would always wonder, Are my Jewish friends in a labor camp right now or even dead? And what would it be like if I was not a Jew and just a regular German?”
Caleb imagined being in the annex, being afraid to “step on a creaky floor board.” Megan said she’d miss “feeling the sunlight on my back.”
For these students, the exhibition is about prejudice and intolerance. It’s about standing up for – rather than judging or bullying – those we perceive to be different than ourselves. It’s about suffering through harsh lessons and still making dignified, compassionate choices.
Mahapach-Taghir’s national coordinator Itamar Hamiel and Palestinian co-director Fidaa Nara Abu-Dbai at the organization’s last residents conference in Tel Aviv. (photo from Itamar Hamiel)
On June 10, Itamar Hamiel of Mahapach-Taghir will be in Vancouver to speak about his organization and new models of activism focused on the Israeli peripheria, the socioeconomic and geographic fringes of the country.
Sponsored by New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC) and hosted by Temple Sholom Synagogue, the lecture is the latest in a series of NIFC events in the city. Mahapach-Taghir, a project that NIF supports, defines itself as a feminist, grassroots, Jewish-Arab organization that focuses on education and community development. Its origins are in the Israeli students’ tuition strike of 1998, with a group of students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Believing that social change must go beyond themselves and also include marginalized communities, they began volunteering in the Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, eventually establishing an after-school education and mentoring program. This program grew into Mahapach-Taghir’s first “learning community,” which has been replicated in eight neighborhoods across Israel, and remains the organization’s core program.
In anticipation of his visit, the Independent spoke with Hamiel, who is Mahapach-Taghir’s national coordinator.
JI: What is the relationship between NIF and your organization?
IH: NIF has supported Mahapach-Taghir since our founding in 1998…. Our organization is sometimes hard to understand: we are a feminist, grassroots, Jewish-Arab organization that focuses on education and community activism. Because of this, sometimes it is hard for us to find funding from foundations that have more specific focus. NIF understands this complexity and supports us in it. Because we insist on Jewish-Palestinian partnership on all levels of our organization, some Jewish foundations aren’t interested in our work. They have a narrow view of what supporting Israel means, and NIF breaks that mold.
Around 14 percent of our funding from last year was from NIF, but our experience is that long-term support is more critical than the amount of funding, and NIF has provided that.
JI: How did you become involved in Mahapach-Taghir?
IH: I became involved in Mahapach-Taghir around 15 years ago, a few months after it was established, as a student volunteer in our community in Florentine (Tel Aviv). After the students in Jerusalem founded the organization in Katamonim, they decided to open communities around the country, including in Florentine.
I saw an ad in the university library and thought it looked interesting – 15 years later, I still haven’t left. I was a student volunteer, a coordinator, a board member, and now work on the national staff. Mahapach-Taghir became my “ideological home.” I know many organizations that focus on feminism, Jewish-Arab partnership, community work, etc., but there are no other organizations that combine these inherently interconnected issues in the way that Mahapach-Taghir does.
JI: Looking at the staff list on the website, all of the staff are women except for you. What are your thoughts on leading a feminist organization?
IH: I am here representing Mahapach-Taghir, but I wouldn’t say that I lead the organization, and I don’t think it would be right if I did. Our Palestinian co-director is Fidaa Nara Abu Dbai and we are currently looking for a Jewish co-director. I won’t even apply for that job because I don’t believe a man should lead an organization that is comprised primarily of women. Usually, even in civil society, most of the staff and volunteers are women and the directors are still men. We believe that it is important to break that paradigm.
JI: How does the Jewish-Arab aspect of the organization get expressed?
IH: Our communities come together for national conferences and seminars at least six times a year. One of our communities is a mixed Jewish-Arab community and, in our communities that are not mixed, there are partnerships between Jewish and Arab communities in geographic proximity.
Mainly, though, we do not think that the only way to do Jewish-Palestinian partnership work is through direct meetings…. For example, in Jerusalem, the Mahapach-Taghir activists in Kiryat HaYovel started a project called Second Opportunity, in which women who had no high school degree were able to pursue a bachelor’s degree. This might not seem political but through Mahapach-Taghir, they drew the link between their lack of education and the political marginalization they face as women in a Mizrahi community. They also understand the link between their marginalization and that of Palestinian women in Israel. The women shared their project with the rest of the communities in a national event, and that inspired the women from Tamra (a Palestinian town inside Israel) to start their own version of the project where the graduates from Jerusalem will serve as mentors. For me, this is the true meaning of partnership: each community works for its own empowerment, while acknowledging the rights and needs of other communities and inspiring one another. They work in solidarity.
JI: What is the feminist aspect of the learning communities? Are fathers also invited to participate?
IH: Each learning community is led by a steering committee that is comprised of residents, almost all of whom are women. We didn’t set out to exclude men but, when you talk about education and community empowerment, women tend to show up. The students who founded Mahapach-Taghir didn’t set out to establish a feminist organization but their view of social justice, and the fact that most of the activists that got involved were women, made it clear that feminism is one of our core values. The very fact that even today when we open a new community it is women who show up, confirms this value. Being a feminist organization doesn’t necessarily mean excluding men, but this country will be a better place when more women have active leadership roles.
JI: Organizations focusing on community development, education and youth take a long view of social change compared to political groups. Why have you chosen this form of activism?
IH: Your question assumes a dichotomy between political and social change. We in Mahapach-Taghir see community development, education and youth work as highly political. Especially in the Israeli context there is a separation between talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (political) and doing work in marginalized communities (social). As always in Mahapach-Taghir, we see this holistically. These issues are interconnected and we need to engage with them as such.
For this reason, we use this form of activism. We have a long view of social change and want to support communities in engaging in activism that will improve the lives of their families, communities and eventually their societies more generally while encouraging solidarity between Jews and Palestinians inside Israel.
JI: Are there measurable outcomes from Mahapach-Taghir’s learning communities?
IH: There are many measurable outcomes from our learning communities but the most important outcomes are not easy to measure. How do you measure empowerment, solidarity and sense of community? In recent years, the perspectives of the corporate world have increasingly influenced expectations of civil society. Organizations like Mahapach-Taghir are expected to provide products and measurable outcomes, and I think that this view is mistaken. I understand that foundations want to know if their money is being well spent but I don’t think that social change can be measured so easily. I am happy to share countless success stories. We can see changes in the communities where we work and in the activists and students that we work with. The stories that are most exciting are usually from activists who have been involved for many years and have gone through a slow but meaningful process of change.
JI: You are coming to Vancouver to solicit donations for NIF from the Diaspora Jewish community. Do you also do resource development in the Arab community (either locally or in the Diaspora)?
IH: Most of our funding comes from European foundations, not from the Jewish Diaspora. We hope that this will change and that more Diaspora Jews will see the value in our work. We also do fundraising locally in each of our communities because we believe in the value of sustainability and local partnership. We have had much more success doing this in our Arab communities. Last year, we raised over 50,000 shekels from our local communities and most of this was from our Arab communities.
JI: What do you hope to share with the Jewish community in Vancouver?
IH: I want to share with them a complex understanding of the society in Israel. I see the tension that Diaspora Jews face of feeling the need to be either “with us or against us,” but I believe that supporting Israel means supporting a more democratic, diverse, pluralistic society in Israel. I hope to bring the voice of our activists, who are doing incredible work in their communities, Jewish and Palestinian, marginalized communities around the country.
Maayan Kreitzman is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
To register for the June 10 event at Temple Sholom, which starts at 7 p.m., go to nifcan.org/our-events/upcoming. In addition to Hamiel, NIFC has invited a local counterpart in community building as a parallel to the work being done in Israel: Lindsay Vander Hoek of Mission Possible will describe her organization’s work with residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
If there’s one act of tikkun olam to which David Katz is dedicated, it’s an effort to clean up the oceans and waterways of the world by recycling and reprocessing plastic waste.
The 45-year-old Port Moody, B.C.-based founder of the Plastic Bank recently returned from Greece, where he was awarded the Global Citizen of the Year Award from the Entrepreneurs Organization. The honor recognizes an entrepreneur who is making a mark on the global landscape, impacting communities, inspiring support and effecting positive change.
Katz’s approach to the clean up of plastic at the world’s shorelines is innovative and, if it succeeds, its potential is huge. The idea is that waste-pickers in the most poverty-stricken countries will collect the plastic garbage and deliver it to reprocessing facilities where they’ll receive a credit at the Plastic Bank. They can then use the credit towards education, loans and access to 3-D print shops, where the plastic can be transformed into tools, parts and household items.
Katz is engaged in a pilot project with Ciuda Saludable in Peru, an organization that works with communities to increase the volume of plastics collected. He’s in partnership talks with similar organizations in Columbia and has had partnership requests from organizations in 40 different countries to date.
Back at home, he worked with the University of British Columbia to develop an extruder, which creates recycled plastic 3-D printing filament, and he’s working with a local plastic reprocessor to create Social Plastic, a brand of recycled plastic. Katz hopes to convince companies to purchase it as a socially responsible alternative to creating new plastics.
“There’s enough plastic in the world right now that we would never have to make more of it,” he explained. “And once it’s reprocessed, the plastic doesn’t degrade, which means it can be used for a wide variety of purposes and continue to be upcycled. It could be turned into fibre for clothing, or into prosthetics.”
Lush Cosmetics is one of the companies that has shown an interest in using Social Plastic in their cosmetics tubs and, at the time of publication, Katz was awaiting the final paperwork on Lush’s participation. Convincing companies to come on board with the concept of Social Plastic may be challenging, though. “Potential customers are concerned that once they start using Social Plastic, they’ll always have to use it,” he said.
Katz said he’s always been drawn to the shore, and with that attraction has come an exposure to its continuous degradation. “It’s a symbol of the global catastrophe occurring because of people’s misunderstanding of environmental issues,” he said. “We’re hoping that by turning plastic waste into a currency that can be exchanged, we can help lift people out of poverty and transition them into a self-sustaining life of entrepreneurship.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.