Richard A. Siegel, Director, School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, writes:
This past summer, the focus of the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management’s Lunch & Learn Encounter Seminar was on “Israel in America: Dimensions of Relationship.” Each Tuesday, for the seven weeks of the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management Summer Session, leaders in the Jewish nonprofit and academic communities explored with our students some of the less obvious ways in which Israel interacts with the American Jewish community. Most of the sessions were live-streamed for viewing by alumni and others in the HUC-JIR community.
The series began with Gary Wexler, a marketing expert and founder of Nonprofit Revolution, speaking about “Brand Israel: An Assessment.” Wexler has been involved with efforts of the Israel Office of Foreign Affairs to “rebrand” Israel, emphasizing some of the more attractive dimensions of the state. Wexler's position was that ignoring “the conflict” was a mistake and that the trick was to contextualize and humanize some of the more controversial dimensions of the current political situation. Watch now >
Miri Belsky, the Chief Operating Officer of the Israeli-American Council, spoke about “Israeli-Americans: An Emerging Asset.” Belsky reported on how the Israeli-American Council, in just a few years, has galvanized the large, and formerly hard-to-reach, community of Israeli-Americans and facilitated their involvement with the educational, advocacy and communal goals of the broader American Jewish community. The organization is growing exponentially and is clearly a phenomenon to be watched. Watch now >
The third speaker was Jay Sanderson, President of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, presenting “A Federation’s Perspective: Changing the Rules of Engagement.” Sanderson spoke candidly about the change in the LA Federation’s involvement with Israel, from being a relatively passive contributor to the UIA, to being paired with and focused on the “sister city” of Tel Aviv, to being an active and direct partner with a variety of organizations throughout Israel effecting changes consistent with the Federation’s larger agenda of concern. Watch now >
Taking off on the new phenomenon of social enterprise, Taly Dunevich, US Director of the Israel Venture Network, gave a detailed introduction to “Impact Investing for Social Change.” Dunevitch reported on and gave illuminating examples how venture capital is being invested in enterprises in Israel that generate a double bottom-line… financial and societal. An example is a for-profit café/coffee house that provides career training and then employs individuals with disabilities. Watch now >
Professor David Myers, the Chair of the UCLA History Department, in speaking on “Understanding BDS,” gave a tour-de-force tutorial on Zionist history as a back-drop to the current movement of “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” against Israel being seen around the world, and particularly on US college campuses. This session was not live-streamed or recorded.
Finally, Daniel Sokatch, the Chief Executive Officer of the New Israel Fund, spoke with the students on “Impact Investment for Social Change.” Sokatch first chronicled the little-known story of the New Israel Fund’s dramatic impact on the development of the Israeli nonprofit sector in response to Israel’s move towards a more capitalistic economic system. He then addressed the increasingly critical role in supporting a democratic vision of the Israeli political and social arenas. Watch now >
With all of these seminars taking place during the Gaza war, the discussions had a heightened sense of urgency and relevance. In total, the students learned from these nonprofit and academic leaders of the multiple ways in which we as Americans can and do have an impact on Israeli civic society far beyond the political and religious controversies that generate so much of the media attention. As the students prepare for the newly named Steven Windmueller School of Jewish Nonprofit Management Israel Seminar later this year, the encounters this summer helped provide context and nuance for what they will be experiencing during their two week intensive exposure to the Israeli nonprofit sector.
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