In my capacity as Deputy Director General of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, I have been working for the past five years with all the local governments throughout the country: small and large, centrally located and in the periphery, Arab and Jewish.  I have had the privilege to closely study the country with its challenges and opportunities.  This professional platform has provided me with much knowledge which, alongside a healthy dose of curiosity, has enabled me to dream about forwarding The Shibly Um El-Ghanem Transformation Project with excellent, highly-qualified and like-minded Wexner alumni.

After significant contemplation, I came to the conclusion that if I could identify one local government and transform it into a model for emulation, this would undoubtedly impact Israeli society.  This generic model could then be used by other towns and local governments who may be looking to create similar changes.  The criteria for the selection of the local government were as follows: 

  • Inherent potential, yet to be realized.
  • A population with a Zionistic vision, supporting the State of Israel.
  • Pragmatic, forward-looking leadership that is eager to cooperate. 

I proceeded to ask The Wexner Foundation to embrace the initiative and to help recruit the talents and connections of those alumni who would be interested, scanning for high-ranking and high-level individuals who held key positions in all the ministries and major public institutions in the country.  I had the honor of chairing the 2015 Wexner Israel Fellowship Alumni Institute and suggested to my fellow alumni to put a proactive, mutual initiative on the table that would maximize the tremendous capabilities and vast range of connections which many of us have for the benefit of Israeli society at large.  It is our first attempt to collaborate as volunteers on such a large project. 

Additionally, some of our Israeli alumni participated in the recent Wexner Summit on Social Justice and we now have American highly-placed and talented Wexner alumni on board.  I offer this update as a case study to learn from, as an example of how to leverage the Wexner network for good and as a story of hope for the New Year.

Why Shibly Um El-Ghanem, population 6,500?

  • It is a small local authority, thus making this case study a manageable pilot with high chances for success.
  • It is geographically situated in the periphery of Israel, which the national and public interest agree is a priority for improvement.
  • It is situated very low on the socioeconomic scale (two out of ten), thus providing an opportunity to advance the less privileged members of Israeli society.
  • Its Muslim-Bedouin population is Zionistic.  Men serve in the IDF and approximately 100 young women serve in the Israeli National Civil Service.  Needless to say, this community is pitted against endless forces which threaten to wring the young Muslim generation away from its Zionistic path.
  • The town is situated in a beautiful natural setting, at the foot of Mount Tabor in the Galilee.  It has breathtaking views and approximately one million Christian pilgrims who pass through it annually on their way to the two important churches on the top of the mountain, yet this natural beauty and vast potential is yet unrealized.
  • The elected leadership of the local government is impressive and cooperative.  They are very open and willing to work together to realize the aforementioned mutual vision.
  • The local level of education is impressive with approximately 70% who are eligible for matriculation (as compared to approximately 50% eligibility in a mixed Arab-Jewish city in the center of the country, such as Lod.)

Here's how it started:

The Mayor, Mr. Naim Shibly, was invited to speak to the alumni at our 2015 institute, and those of us who were interested to learn more were invited to visit Shibly and study its challenges and opportunities.  Twenty five WIF alumni visited Shibly in October of last year.  The brainstorming sessions which followed created a "road map" for the initiative, which examined in what way this particular town could be turned over the course of three years into a model for emulation — a success story in the Israeli internal arena.

Together, we decided that education, tourism and sustainability would be the driving vectors of our efforts — to transform Shibly into “an Israeli Pearl in the Galilee," to enable it to become a sanctuary for scientific excellence, while simultaneously enhancing its inherent strength and potential touristic assets by also focusing on its Bedouin heritage.

A group of wonderful, highly-motivated and touchingly-dedicated Wexner Israel alumni are currently driving this forward:

  1. The establishment of a center for scientific excellence, based upon the "MadaTech" model in Haifa, whose Director General is Eli Shermeister, WIF Alum (Class 9).  This center will serve the Jewish and Arab inhabitants living within a wide range of Shibly’s regional local authority.  We also plan to build an educational agricultural farm, which has already been endorsed by the Israeli Ministry of Education (further details regarding this initiative is available).
  2. Within the framework of scientific excellence, a strategic voluntary alliance shall be forged between this local authority and the Schneider Children's Hospital, with Deputy Director General, Efrat Bron-Harlev, WIF Alum (Class 18).  Therein, four significant annual events will be produced in Shibly, to which its entire population of youngsters and their parents, as well as those from neighboring Jewish and Arab towns, will be invited.  The purpose of these events will be to enable the said population to learn of potential employment opportunities in the medical realms, as presented by Schneider's senior professional leadership.  Furthermore, pupils from Shibly shall pay an annual visit to the hospital within the framework of their scientific education at no cost.
  3. Robotics, as a subject, shall be incorporated into the elementary schools in the town on a continual and permanent basis.  This is an effort promoted by Tchiya Fortus, wife of Aaron Fortus, WIF Alum (Class 26).
  4. A proven method for encouraging academic and all-round excellence shall be embraced by a newly established elementary school in Shibly, a method based upon the KIPP model, which has currently been incorporated into more than 150 schools throughout the US in underprivileged areas and has proved to be extraordinarily successful.  This effort is being led by the Associate Director at the Wexner Israel Programs, Dana Savoray-Hadar, together with the Director of the Israeli KIPP equivalent, Mr. Eran Dubovi, and the Ministry of Education.
  5. A regional center of "United Hatzala" — the life-saving first aid brigade, which arrives at scenes of medical emergencies and administers basic medical care until the arrival of the Israeli Red Cross — shall be established in Shibly.  This organization, based completely on volunteers, is particularly touching in the manner in which it actualizes unity amongst the very different sects of Israeli society — Haredim, secular Jews, Arabs — all working together side-by-side for the sole purpose of saving lives, regardless of political and/or religious views.  The selection process for those volunteers who wish to take part from the entire region, as well the training, shall take place in Shibly.  This incredible idea was brought to the table by the aforementioned Efrat Bron-Harlev and is currently being implemented.  The inauguration of this center is planned to take place during Hanukah of 2016 under the auspices of the "United Hatzala" in Israel and the Israeli Minister of Interior.
  6. Given the inherent touristic asset which is part and parcel of the local authority, a Bedouin Heritage Visitors' Center will be established.  The Ministry of Social Affairs, headed by Minister Gila Gamliel, has already promised its partnership in forwarding this initiative by financially supporting it.  Recently, four outstanding WIF alumni have pledged support to this project, namely Havatzelet Yahel (Class 18), an expert on Bedouin issues formerly in the Israeli Ministry of Justice; Nira Lamay Rachlevsky (Class 25), legal advisor at the Israeli Knesset; Shmulik Porat (Class 10), former commander of the helicopter squad in the Israeli Police Force; and Gillad Eisin (Class 16), former senior intelligence officer in the IDF.
  7. A strategic encompassing educational road map for the local authority shall be created, based upon the vision of its Mayor, bearing in mind the aforementioned path of "scientific excellence alongside Bedouin heritage."  This effort is being led by Hannah Kovel, WIF Alum (Class 6) and former Director General of the Karmiel municipality for over two decades, in collaboration with Shibly’s head of Education Division, leading figures in the Ministry of Education as well as WIF alumni Amit David (Class 22), Uri Salomon (Class 15), Oded Gour-Lavie (Class 19) and Gillad Eisin (Class 16), all former senior strategists at the IDF.
  8. All the aforementioned initiatives will be accompanied by a strategic partnership and cooperation with the renowned Israeli artist and singer, David Broza, who has committed his name and energy to the project, in order to lend it more soul.
  9. As mentioned above, the recent Wexner Summit on Social Justice in Columbus, Ohio allowed the presentation of our project by participants Eli Shermeister, Efrat Harlev and Uri Salomon.  We recruited two new WIF alumni and one WHP alum, Sam Goldman (San Francisco 11) to the group, thereby expanding the examination of incorporating ecotourism into the Shibly initiative and placing the project officially into the framework of the Summit.  Simultaneously, several more outstanding Israeli alumni have expressed interest in lending their experience and expertise to the effort.  Thus, we shall conduct yet another introductory meeting and tour of Shibly together with its Mayor on October 30th at 10:00 am.  Interested alumni of all Wexner programs are welcome to join us on that date.
  10. Finally, significant fundraising efforts will begin to take place at the start of 2017, which will be headed by Ruthie Saragosti, WIF Alum (Class 26) and me. 

Fundamentally, for all Wexner alumni involved, myself included, this is a voluntary initiative.  It has Zionistic values and outreach and aims to have a real and long-lasting impact upon Israeli society.  Within this initiative, one may find values pertaining to coexistence and the incorporation of Israel's minorities into mainstream society, particularly those who contribute to the security of the country.  The initiative aims to create a blueprint or a model that can be used in other similar areas to create incentives for other minorities to act accordingly.  Furthermore, it encourages investment and enhancement of Israel's periphery, as well as urban economic development.  Finally, it is done in partnership and collaboration with the local leadership, the central government, the third sector and the community at large.

If you'd like more information, please contact me at

Ruth Wasserman Lande, WIF Alum (Class 18), was born in Israel and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. After returning to Israel on her own at the age of 17, she graduated Cum Laude with a degree in International Relations and Communications from Bar Ilan University.  She served as a Political Analyst in the IDF’s Intelligence, rising to the rank of Captain and joined the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she was appointed to serve as the Desk Officer for the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia.  She was then promoted to the position of advisor to the Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, dealing with counterterrorism and anti-proliferation issues.  She earned an MA in International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Master in Public Administration as a Wexner Fellow.  She can be reached at