Evan Muney is a Wexner Heritage Alum from San Francisco where he serves on the Executive of the Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee. He is also a partner in Camp Kimama, an international Jewish summer camp in Israel, where he will be spending this summer and promoting dialogue between Israeli and Diaspora Jews. He would be happy to have visitors. Contact him at evan@campkimama.org.

Imagine an Israeli attorney and teacher of women advocates to the Rabbinical Courts (and the wife of an orthodox Rabbi) being so inspired by the varied and dynamic expressions of Jewish life she witnesses during a visit to the Jewish communities of NY and San Francisco that she makes arrangements, before her own visit is over, for her daughter, who is about to become a Bat Mitzvah, to spend a week in the US to see it for herself. And then imagine a woman who is a Reform rabbi in a nearby town, collaborating with the attorney to create a new and dynamic Bat Mitzvah program for the girls of their communities.

Imagine a group of Israeli Jews from completely different sides of the political and religious spectrums, such as an Orthodox settler from Gush Etzion and a leftist secular theater director from Haifa, visiting with each other in their respective homes to discuss community and religion.

Imagine participants in a leadership program on Jewish pluralism in Israel creating their own programs that will have a ripple effect on broader segments of Israeli society and the American Jewish community, such as an Israeli Community Center director putting together a program through which his colleagues will share best practices in Jewish education with each other, and also with a group of JCC directors in the US. And those JCC directors will learn and explore more effective ways of integrating Israel related programming into their own JCCs.

And imagine a group of dynamic and influential Israelis spending several days in conversation with a group of Wexner Heritage Alumni about how they as individuals and as communities live as Jews. Sharing the challenges, struggles and successes that both sides encounter in the effort to preserve Jewish community and exploring what each community means and could mean to the other. And then feel the joy as you listen to an Israeli participant say to the group of Americans, “you need us as much as we need you.” 

These are just a sampling of stories coming from Gvanim a leadership development program for Israelis. Gvanim is the Hebrew word for “hues” (as in a spectrum of colors), a fitting name for a program dedicated to enhancing and promoting Jewish identity and pluralism in Israel. This is the fifth year of the program, founded and run by the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation together with its Israeli advisory committee. The New York Federation has supported the program, and the MetroWest Federation is a current partner.

Participants are a very impressive group. They represent the full range of religious observance in Israel and also include successful business and media personalities, educators, artists and community leaders. Gvanim participants come together for a yearlong course of study with some of Israel’s leading thinkers and activists. The curriculum provides enrichment and exploration, exposing participants to the whole range of viewpoints, through intensive learning sessions in Israel, the Bay Area and New York.

The object of the program is not only to sensitize this group of influential Israelis to the issues of pluralism, but also to inspire them to become agents of change, each in their own professional sphere and community. The program requires participants to develop community-based action programs to foster Jewish identity and promote pluralism. This enables Gvanim to have broad impact, potentially affecting thousands of Israelis throughout the country. 

We are a diverse People and we all have a lot to learn and to gain by sharing and collaborating with each other. Gvanim is one way to facilitate the conversation. I hope we can find many ways to continue to broaden and deepen the conversation.

I encourage anyone else interested in learning more about this program to contact Sharon Dwek at the San Francisco Federation: SharonD@sfjcf.org