As we wait to see what kind of long-term effects the Occupy Wall Street and the local Occupy Boston movements have, it’s clear the Israeli protests they replicated have begun to turn anger against the government into real policy change. Recently, a group of young adult leaders from Haifa shared their insights into the original Tent City Protest, the J14 social justice movement that swept across Israel this past summer beginning on July 14th, at a Boston-Haifa Connection panel discussion hosted by Consul General Shai Bazak.
Gilad Saadoun, a member of the BHC Young Leadership Committee, said many people asked him about the protest movement while he was in Boston.
“This was about the middle class – the people who work hard, serve in the army, and pay their taxes,” he said. “Everyone came together in a way that I haven’t seen since Yizhak Rabin’s assassination.”
Rebecca Hecht Weistuch, also a YLC member, was very involved in setting up the Tent City in Haifa after Daphne Leef had inspired hundreds of her fellow Israelis to tents along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
“We knew we needed to set up our tents near where people were going so we could be seen,” Rebecca said. “So we decided on the area in the Carmel Center right near the auditorium. And people came.
“It was very emotional to see older people and younger people there together, and especially for us, people who are active members of some of the other Haifa-Boston Connection committees. They wanted to take part, so we said, Come With Us.”
“Everyone knew something big was happening, even if you didn’t know the goals at the beginning,” Idan Nishlis, the Young Leadership Committee’s co-chair, reflected. “You knew that it was a defining moment in our history. Channel 10 sent a crew with a tent just to be able to document what would happen. The media has an important function, and it wanted to be the voice of the people, not the voice of the establishment. The protests show that young adults have a voice in the country.”
Dana Gershon, Co-chair of the CJP Boston-Haifa Connection introduced the panel, which was moderated by Young Leadership Committe Co-chair Dena Zigun, and shared the following thoughts: “Throughout the Jewish world, we hear concerns about the so-called “Next Gen” and wondering whether this group will maintain its Jewish identity going forward. When you meet these young leaders from Haifa and hear about what they do and what rivets them, your faith in the Jewish future is secured.”
One of the Young Leadership Committee’s central concerns is retaining Haifa’s young adult population. Home to two of the country’s leading universities, the University of Haifa and the Technion, Haifa is a young city. But far too many graduates look to leave the city after they graduate for perceived better opportunities in the Tel-Aviv metropolitan area.
Gilad noted that the most challenging aspect is a concern shared by those of us in Boston, which is job creation, noting that the high-tech sector is important but is not enough.
Toward that end, he is involved in the Entrepreneurs in Jeans program, a signature program of the Young Leadership Committee, which helps business-minded young adults learn how to run a startup by introducing them to successful businesspeople through monthly networking presentations and events.
“We’re also working to change the culture of philanthropy in Haifa, especially giving among young adults. We’ve learned a lot about the importance of smaller gifts, $100, $200, that’s where it starts.”
“All the programs we invest in leadership are paying off,” Rebecca agreed. “People want to be more involved, people want to challenge themselves.”
According to Idan, the Boston-Haifa Connection “has the ability to engage. Not only to raise money, but to be involved in the community and to affect change. It doesn’t matter if young adults are leaving for Tel-Aviv, Akko or South America, we want them to stay and build their lives in Haifa.”
Consul General Shai Bazak hosted the discussion in his residence, demonstrating why it’s essential for discussions like this between American Jews and Israeli Jews to take place on a regular basis.
“For us to know each other and to understand each other is so important. Our communities are fighting the same battle. The battle for peace, for Jewish education, for Jewish identity, and for the Jewish nation. We can’t do it without each other. The Boston-Haifa Connection does exactly what we have to do, and shows how we can work together to achieve our goals.”
Ruth Kaplan, CJP’s Director of the Boston-Haifa Connection, reiterated the importance of the mission of the BHC—to create and deepen Israel-Diaspora relationships among the people of Boston and Haifa through mutual cooperation and engagement. The evening was closed by CJP President Barry Shrage, who commended the accomplishments of the Boston and Haifa young leaders and challenged them to create their own vision of the future of the Israel/Diaspora relationship.