18 Seeds of Inspiration from Israel

Tags: Tu B'Shevat, Israel Engagement, Inspiration and Hope, People and Society

By Molly Livingstone

In honor of Tu B’Shevat, just as we celebrate the rebirth of Israel’s trees, so, too, should we celebrate the ongoing rejuvenated spirit that we gain from the people who inspire us. Here is our pick of inspiring Israelis from all walks of life. While they motivate us, we wanted to know what inspires them and their message to the Jewish community around the world.

Here’s what they had to say...

Reuven Karasik, Developer and Entrepeneur

Headshot of Reuven Karasik, Young Developer and Entrepeneur

Reuven Karasik is one of the brightest young faces of Israel's tech scene. He started coding at 7, freelancing at 13, and spent his time in high school building cool websites, plugins and tools for a few of Jerusalem's startups. He also founded Tomorrow JLM and organizes meetups, events and hackathons in the city as part of Made in JLM.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

That's easy, from everywhere. Luckily enough I'm surrounded with so many amazing people, and one of my hobbies is simply listening and talking with them. There are so many inspirational people working in Jerusalem, specifically MadeinJLM (Made in Jerusalem), a non-profit organization that connects and empowers Jerusalem’s startup and tech community.

There's a saying that's stuck in my head for a few weeks now, "you're the average of the 5 people you spend time with," and for me, the best way to learn and grow was to make sure I spend time with interesting people and listen to interesting stories. It means going to meetups in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv ever since I was 13, and it also means joining so many projects that I don't have any time to myself anymore - just to get the chance to work with these amazing people.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

I try very hard to always learn new things, and although it's not easy, I try to see how I can learn from every experience - especially the bad ones. This is a message I want to share with everyone (not only the Jews) because I believe that it's a critical part of growing, learning, and not less important - staying optimistic.

Dr. Yael Schuster, Scientist and STEM Educator

Headshot of "Dr. Mom", Dr. Yael Schuster, scientist

Dr. Yael Schuster, aka "Dr. Mom", has been many things, including a research scientist at a leading research institute, an educator, and a mother. Yael founded The KnowItAlls, an international community and educational toy line crafted to give girls superstar scientist role models and to encourage them to play with science, and StellarNova, an edutainment company that is in partnership with SpaceIL. She is definitely a science superwoman herself!

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I have had the fortune lately to meet a lot of wonderful people doing truly inspiring work, but nothing makes me feel more personally inspired than working with children, seeing the wonder with which they see their world, and their amazing creativity and resilience.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

I'm not sure how much I identify with Jews being the chosen people or having a special connection - at least not without working on it. When we do use these international Jewish connections and networks to build and conquer great issues, we have great power to do good in the world.

Rachel Azaria, Politician and Activist

Headshot of Rachel Azaria, MK

Rachel Azaria has been a member of Knesset, the leader of the Kulanu party, and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. During her time as an MK, she served on the Finance Committee and Interior Affairs Committee. MK Azaria focused on labor laws, women's affairs, and redefining religion and state, including passing legislation increasing paid vacation and paternity leave. Azaria is internationally recognized for her feminist activism; in her role as a local politician Azaria won hard-fought campaigns to enforce laws prohibiting gender segregation and discrimination in Jerusalem’s Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Between 2004-2007, Azaria served as the director of Mavoi Satum, a nonprofit organization which assists Jewish women who have been denied a religious divorce (get). Azaria started her public activity as an environmental activist in 1998, serving as a board member of Israel’s volunteer-based environmental organization Megama Yeruka, and eventually served as joint chairman of the Knesset Environmental Lobby.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I am inspired by learning about leadership in historically significant times, like Moses and the Exodus, Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. I also get a lot of inspiration watching young boys and girls playing, I think about how I am here for them trying to ensure them a better future.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world? I get my inspiration from studying the leadership of the eras before us in history, from Moshe and the Exodus from Egypt to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War in the United States. But my biggest inspiration comes from watching children play - that everyone thing I do is to ensure for them a better future.

That we have the honor of living in a Jewish state, and that this is a huge merit and responsibility even though we have had to pass through challenging times and pressures between the many factions of our nation. I believe that from the hardships and the tests, we will successfully create a partnership between the parties and diverse people that make up the citizens of Israel.

Mishy Harman, Host and Producer, Israel Story

Headshot of Mishy Harman, host and producer of Israel Story

Photo courtesy of Israel Story

Mishy Harman is the host of the popular, award-winning radio show and podcast 'Israel Story.' Born and raised in Jerusalem, he graduated from Harvard, where he majored in history. He then moved to England, where he did an MPhil at Cambridge University, in archeology. Following a stint as a teaching fellow back at Harvard, he returned to Jerusalem, where he completed his doctorate at Hebrew University. He loves nothing more than a good story and spending time with his family.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

As odd as it may sound, there are two stone inscriptions, on either side of a gate leading into Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which have stayed with me for many years, and enter into my thoughts quite often. If you look up when you are facing the entrance to the university, just as you are about to walk in through its gate, you can read five short words, which are sort of a directive as to what you are supposed to do inside: "Enter to grow in wisdom." But as you leave the university, exiting into the real world, where real things happen and real people have real problems, it has a much less self-indulgent message: "Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind." For some reason, that idea has stuck with me, and guided me. I look around at people who work tirelessly to improve the lives of those around them, and am inspired by their selflessness, by their determination, by their stubbornness and unwillingness to accept reality as it is.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

My beloved late Savta (grandma), Zena Harman, had a favorite quote, by the nineteenth-century British poet Robert Browning. It is one of those quotes you can easily imagine being printed, with a background of some cheesy stock-photo of a sun setting over the ocean or something, on one of those inspirational postcards you pick up at Walmart or CVS. I imagine there are a zillion other similarly inspiring messages. But for me, maybe because it was so dear to my Savta's heart, it is really a big motivator to continue working and thinking about new ideas and new ways to help people. "Ah," it goes, "but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's heaven for?"

Lena Bakman, Journalist and Political Advisor

Headshot of Lena Bakman, Journalist and Political Advisor

Lena Bakman has served world Jewry and the image of our nation for many years. She has served as a leader of ROI Germany and a member of the World Zionist Congress. She has been the Deputy Director of Communications and Knesset & Government Liaison at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem based research institute. Lena has also served as a media advisor to former Knesset ministers Dr. Einat Wilf, Chair of the Diaspora committee and Education committee, and Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Lena has experience in communications, new media political and public diplomacy fields. She is very active in advocating initiatives for Israel and is the founder of a Journalists and Spokespersons group on Facebook.

Where do you get your inspiration from? ​

Innovation inspires me. Creative people inspire me. People contributing for making this world a better place inspire me. I love the modern world of technology and culture that helps to advance humanity. I get my inspiration from people that defend freedom and human rights, defend justice and promote the truth.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

I write this at a time when we do not have such inspiring news, with violence against Jews in Europe, which should deeply disturb all those who value democracy and human lives, regardless of race, religion, gender and age.

That being said, my message of inspiration I would like to share with Jews around the world is that we all have the obligation to preserve our democratic values, defend freedom of religion, freedom of speech, act against Antisemitism and racism, and create coalitions around the globe in order to advance humankind and ensure a brighter future for next generations.

Noam Chen, Photographer

Photo of Noam Chen, award-winning photographer

Noam Chen is an award-winning photographer, specializing in landscapes and portraits. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Israel, Europe and North America, including The National Geographic. In 2009, Noam took part in group exhibitions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and by 2011 held his first solo exhibition “Photography in Another Dimension”. His work has been displayed in Paris, Los Angeles, New York, as well as other cities across the world as the official Jerusalem photographer for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. His powerful Holocaust photo project is now part of the permanent collection of the National Photography Museum in Colombia, South America. He is also the first Israeli and Jewish artist to join the UAE's Arabian Gallery in Dubai.

Where do I get my inspiration from?

My inspiration usually comes from the place itself and my knowledge of its history. A big part of my photography work revolves around sites in Israel that are holy and historically important to both Jews and Christians. It's a huge source of inspiration for me just being present at a place that you know has such an incredible history, where our ancestors have walked and prayed thousands of years ago.

Another source of inspiration for me is my audience on social media. I've been receiving heart-warming feedback from people around the world, writing to me how they experience the Holy Land through my photos, how they feel as if it's visiting Israel when they are not able to come in person, and how much it means to them. Also, when I see that people learn about Israel and its true history from being exposed to my photos, it inspires me to keep doing what I do.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

Be proud.

Be proud of who you are, of your origins, of the country that we've established as a people.

Throughout the history, the Jews have suffered greatly, but we have accomplished much more.

We should all remember where we came from - our ancient history as well as our more recent. We should all remember the importance of being united around the only Jewish state in the world, even if some of us don't agree with its politics. We must never forget, nor give up on our historic right for our land. We are living in a world that is getting increasingly dangerous, but we are strong people. And if we all stay united, we will remain undefeated.

Laura Ben-David, Photographer and Social Media Activist

Headshot of Laura Ben-David, photographer and social media expert

Photo credit: Miriam Lottner

Laura Ben-David is a professional photographer, marketing consultant, and social media activist. Originally from New York, she started writing when she made aliyah from Florida and never stopped. Formerly the head of social media at Nefesh B’Nefesh, she is now Director of Marketing & New Media​ at Shavei Israel. A popular writer and speaker, Laura’s subjects of choice include Israel, blogging, aliyah & social media - and sometimes all four at once.

Where do you get your inspiration from? ​

Nothing has ever inspired me the way Israel inspires me. What exactly about Israel inspires me? Everything: The people - past and present. The sacrifice that so many have made and will continue to make so that I may live here. The land and all the secrets she holds and slowly reveals. The history that defines my people and lends itself to every part of life in this blessed land. The diversity in opinions, politics, culture that make up the tapestry that is Israel. And so much more...

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

​​Regardless of where you may find yourself, Jews all over the world are privileged to ​tap into the inspiration of Israel via articles, personal connections, social media...​Don't take this for granted. Stay in touch, read, connect with Israel and, whenever possible, be here. Touch the stones. Smell the aromas. Speak to the people. Experience all that Israel has to offer. I promise you: you will not be able to help but be inspired.

Rabbi Seth Mandell, Co-founder of The Koby Mandell Foundation

Photo of Rabbi Seth Mandell, co-founder of The Koby Mandell Foundation

Photo credit: Yissachar Ruas

Rabbi Seth Mandell, along with his wife Sherri, founded The Koby Mandell Foundation after the tragic murder of their 13-year-old son, Koby, as he was hiking in the canyon behind his family home in 2001. The Koby Mandell Foundation is dedicated to helping bereaved Israeli families heal after losing a loved one to terror and other tragedies. Programs, many of which are free to participants, include Camp Koby and Yosef, healing retreats, support groups and individual grief counseling.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Christopher Reeve who once played superman in the movies became a paraplegic after falling off a horse and breaking his neck. When we met him in Israel he said, "I used to think heroes were people who did extraordinary things. Sports stars, astronauts, people like that. Now I realize that the real heroes are people who get up every day of their lives and struggle through the day because of personal challenges - physical, emotional, financial or other."

The people who inspire me are the head counselors and counselors at Camp Koby, the summer camp for children who have lost loved ones to terror or other tragedy. They give themselves to their bereaved campers with complete abandon both physically and emotionally. But even more are those adults who take vacation time from their regular jobs in hi-tech or medicine to come to work at Camp Koby and help these children heal.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

With all of the security and social challenges in the State of Israel and the state of the Jewish community in the Diaspora, this era is the best time to be a Jew in at least the past 2000 years. We have our own state, our own army, we are affluent and free beyond the wildest dreams of even our grandfathers. There is more Torah being learned in Israel and the Diaspora than at any time in the history of the Jewish people. We should be on a continual state of gratitude to our Creator that our People have arrived at this moment in history and that we as individuals are here to appreciate it.

Sivan Ya'ari Borowich, Founder and CEO, Innovation: Africa

Headshot of Sivan Ya'ari Borowich, founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa

Photo courtesy of Innovation: Africa

Sivan Ya'ari Borowich is the founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa. A true woman of the world, Sivan was born in Israel and raised in France, before earning her degrees in the US, in addition to her work in the rural areas of Africa. Sivan graduated summa cum laude with a degree in finance from Pace University and holds a Master's degree in International Energy Management and Policy from Columbia. Her time on the African continent began while working with a major multinational corporation in 1999, and after witnessing the state in which many of the residents lived, she developed the groundwork for what would become Innovation: Africa. Since its founding in 2008, her organization has brought Israeli technological innovations to remote African villages across the continent, providing millions of people with access to electricity and clean water for the first time.

Sivan has been recognized as one of the "40 Under 40 Most Promising Israelis" by Globes Daily, one of the "Top 100 People Postively Influencing Jewish Life" by Algemeiner, and one of the "50 Most Influential Women in Israel" by Forbes. Innovation: Africa has been the recipient of the United Nation Innovation Award and the Abba Eban Institute's Innovative Diplomacy Award.  

Where do you get your inspiration from? ​

I was first inspired to bring Israeli solar technology to remote African villages in my early twenties when I traveled to Madagascar to work for a manufacturing company. Although I grew up relatively poor in israel, this was the first time that I saw real poverty. Amidst the starving boys and malnourished girls, all I could wonder was: how is this possible in the 21st century? As I pursued my work in Africa, it was clear that daily survival in many areas is based on their chance to find water. Hours a day are spent in the sun looking for water, walking for miles a day with a yellow jerry can only to fill up their water from a muddy pool infested with contaminated diseases. With no alternatives available, the villagers must drink the dirty water, only to become sick as a result. Now sick, finding a medical clinic is as much a dead end as it is to enter one. In one of these so-called "medical centers", there are no doctors, no vaccines and little to no medicine, because there are no refrigerators to properly store them, as there is no electricity in these locations. While I left Africa, Africa never left me. As such, Innovation: Africa was born with the simple mission to bring innovative water and solar technologies from Israel to rural African villages. Now, years later, with hundreds of these solar and water projects completed, millions of people finally have access to clean water and electricity, and the ability to implement these technologies on their own.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

According to a 2013 Pew Report "A Portrait of Jewish Americans," when asked what is most essential to being Jewish, 69% of respondents answered "leading an ethical and moral life. and 56% said the same about "working towards justice and equality". Millenials are coming of age in a time when the image of Israel has fundamentally shifted to one of conflict and violence, making support for Israel seem in direct opposition to that which today is most important to living life "Jewishly," namely justice, human rights and an ethical life. Young people need a new narrative of Israel to connect with and to share. Innovation: Africa tells a different story - the story of a Startup Nation that shares the technology they've developed with the people around the world.

Father Gabriel Naddaf, Zionist Priest

Photo of Father Naddaf, Zionist Israeli Arab Christian priest

Photo credit: Paster Jostein Skevik

Father Naddaf is an Arab Israeli priest dedicated to integrating the Christian community in Israel into all aspects of Israeli society, and especially the army and national service. He is known for his vocal support and activism on behalf of the State of Israel, and serves as a judge in Israel's religious courts. He has often faced criticism, personal attacks, and even physical violence from the Arab communities as a result of his pro-Israel views.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My source of inspiration is the faithfulness of God. I do not say this just because I am a priest but because of the evidence of that faithfulness which I see all around. I experience God’s faithfulness in the fulfilment of His promises. After thousands of years of persecution, the Jewish people are back in God’s land, a land promised to them through the Forefathers and ratified through the Prophets. Against all odds, they have made the desert bloom and against all odds they have fought off armies that continue to outnumber them. For the first time in millennia, as Gentiles grafted onto the Olive Tree of Israel, we Christians are reclaiming our heritage as an ancient people of this Land and defending it and her citizens. We do this gladly because God has stated clearly that every thing we have comes from the Jewish people; the Scriptures, the Prophets, our civil laws, our ethics and of course Jesus Himself. It is the faithfulness of our God and the privileges that He has given us that inspires me to do what I do with conviction and without fear.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

My message to the Jewish people is to take heart and be strong. Remember God’s faithfulness is bigger and more powerful than those who try to murder you, steal your heritage and steal your land. It is God’s faithfulness that inspires you, and will empower Jewish people worldwide to stand firm.

Phyllis Heimowitz, Founder of The Girlfriends of Fallen IDF Soldiers

Photo of GFIDF Staff members Rina Kahan, Phyllis Heimowitz, and Tamar Heimowitz-Richter

GFIDF staff, left to right: Rina Kahan, director; Phyllis Heimowitz, founder; Tamar Heimowitz-Richter, Chair

Phyllis Heimowitz was born in New York. For nine years she taught in underprivileged areas in the Bronx. She moved to Israel with her husband and son a year after the Six-Day War. In Israel she had two more daughters, Tamar and Michal. Michal tragically lost her childhood sweetheart at age 22, only a few months before their wedding, while he serving on the Lebanon border. It was soon obvious that there was an unfortunate lack of support provided for these partners, future spouses, of fallen IDF soldiers, as they were not officially considered family members. Therefore, together with Tamar, Phyllis founded a non-profit now known as "The Girlfriends of Fallen IDF Soldiers (GFIDF)" in 1998. Today, while still being an independent organization, GFIDF operates in cooperation with the IDF and the Ministry of Defense. This organization is unique in the world and in Israel, providing psychological help to bereaved fiancees and fiances of fallen soldiers. These young bereaved people are given free psychological help in the framework of support groups and individual therapy. 

Where do I get my inspiration from?

In 1997, an incredible tragedy hit our daughter and our entire family. Our beautiful, gentle daughter Michal, age 22, was to be married in 4 months to Lt. Avi Book, also age 22. They knew each other since the first grade, grew up, fell in love. There could be no finer person than Avi. He loved his family, the Land of Israel, and oh, how he loved his Michali.

Avi was the commander of a group of young soldiers whom he had trained (and he was only 22!). Their mission in Lebanon was to protect the northern border by preventing terrorists from infiltrating Israel. In 1997, Hezbollah mortars hit the base where Avi and his soldiers were serving. Avi, dear, pure wonderful Avi, ran to see that his soldiers were ok and in position. A mortar fell right next to him, killing him on the spot.

Deep, horrible, indescribable tragedy fell on Michali who was to be a bride in just 4 months, and indeed on all of us. After the most painful shivah, Michali sat on the couch in our living room and whispered in pain: "Save me. I can't save myself.” Those were such powerful words. My mother was listening, heartbroken, in Heaven. She reminded me of what she had taught us by her example.

The next day, I and Michal's older sister who was just 24 and had just become a lawyer, set out to the Ministry of Defense. Our goal: To establish Support Groups for these young unmarried women. No one cared about them. Widows were well taken care of by the Ministry of Defense, but these "widows without a ring" were totally neglected.

This story of the establishment of the "Non-Profit Organization for the Emotional Support of Fiancees of Fallen Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces" is a story that has in many ways changed the history of the State of Israel.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

Be inspired! Come and join us in building this beautiful land. I know that it is hard to become an immigrant. I know that it takes years until one knows the ways of the Land. But come, come, come. We so need you HERE. We need your love, your skills, your children. You will, upon coming on aliyah, change not only your life, but the life of this country.

My husband and I came on aliyah on Oct. 21, 1968, a year after the Six-Day War. We brought with us a 5 month old son, Daniel. We are now an entire TRIBE. My husband and I planted a virtual sapling on the day of our aliyah and we are now a strong, mighty tree. Thank G-d.

My message: Don't be afraid, or rather, it's ok to be afraid but do what is right in your eyes. You are mighty. You are strong. Come build this country with us.

Michael Freund, Founder and Chairman, Shavei Israel

Headshot of Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel

Michael Freund served as Deputy Communications Director in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office under Binyamin Netanyahu during his first term of office. Freund is the Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel, a non-profit organization based in Israel that reaches out and assists Lost Tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish people, and bring many home to Israel. The organization works with no-longer-lost Jewish communities across the world, from the Amazon basin to Italy, from Spain to Russia, to the Indian subcontinent and China. In addition, Freund is a correspondent and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post, Israel's largest English-language daily newspaper. A native New Yorker, he is a graduate of Princeton University and holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia. He has lived in Israel for decades and still remains a loyal New York Mets fan.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from the long chain of Jewish history, from those who came before us and struggled so mightily to preserve their Jewish identity in an often-hostile and unwelcoming world. They carried the torch of our national mission as a people, and this is something that we must never take for granted. From the very beginning, Jews have encountered inordinate challenges in ensuring their continuity and collective future. Living under hostile regimes, or among inhospitable populations, they nonetheless held fast to their heritage, enriching the world intellectually, spiritually and culturally. Looking back is what helps me to look forward, confident in the knowledge that we must do everything we can to guarantee a brighter and better Jewish future.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

We are privileged to live in an era when the Jewish people have returned to the international stage, having regained sovereignty in our own Land and re-established the State of Israel after 1900 years of Exile. Israel is where Jewish history and Jewish destiny coincide, where our future as a nation is being written on a daily basis. We await redemption, but in the meantime, there is so much work to be done. There are so many lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities out there in the world, people who were once part of us but were torn away due to oppression or persecution down through the centuries. This is what prompted me to start Shavei Israel – the desire to reach out to such people and help them reconnect with their Jewish roots. We owe it to them and to their ancestors – as well as to ourselves! – to bring back as many of them as we can.

Beth Steinberg, Executive Director and Co-founder of Shutaf

Headshot of Beth Steinberg, cofounder and executive director of Shutaf

Beth Steinberg is the executive director and co-founder of Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem, offering year-round, informal-education programs for children, teens and young adults with disabilities. Shutaf was founded in 2007 out of the desire of Beth and her co-founder, Miriam Avraham, both mothers of disabled individuals, who wanted to provide activities for their children that were similar to what the other kids were getting, and not just resort to hiring a babysitter. Shutaf is committed to an inclusive teaching model that welcomes all participants - with and without disabilities - regardless of religious, cultural and socioeconomic differences. In recognition of her work with Shutaf, Beth was a recipient of the Nefesh B'Nefesh Sylvan Adams Bonei Zion Prize for olim who are making exceptional contributions to Israeli society.

Beth regularly blogs on the Times of Israel about parenting and disability issues, and is also the artistic director of Theater in the Rough, creating engaging theatrical experiences including summer Shakespeare in Jerusalem.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I'm inspired by our Shutaf participants, children, teens and young people, with and without disabilities, who come together as part of our inclusive programs, learning important lessons of welcome and acceptance. I'm inspired by my own son, Akiva, who is himself a person of welcome and acceptance to all - not because his cognitive disabilities prevent him from being more discerning, because he deeply cares about people and their happiness.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

Inclusion is a Jewish peoplehood issue. We exclude because we fear difference. We're not sure if we can include everyone in our collective Jewish tent. It’s painful to admit to these fears, these misconceptions about difference. It’s not PC. Welcoming in every member of the community, families, children, and adults, especially those whose differences are scarier to us, whatever that means, is a process we must reckon with, so that all can join the Exodus from a place of exclusion, and be privileged to enter the Promised Land of an inclusive Jewish community.

Yosef Abramowitz, Environmentalist and Solar Power Developer

Headshot of Yosef Abramowitz, environmentalist and solar power developer

Yosef Abramowitz is a co-founder of Arava Solar, which brought the solar industry to Israel, and it remains the leading solar company in the country. Currently, he serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, an impact investment solar and social development enterprise focused on bringing power to the people of Africa. He also was a member of the official Israeli delegation to the Paris Climate Conference. Yosef Abramowitz has been named by CNN as one of six global Green Pioneers, and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has also been a candidate for President of Israel, and a recipient of the Green Globe, Israel's highest environmental award.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I think the Jewish people are blessed with world-changing, illuminating sources of inspiration. Ya gotta love that Torah with multitudes of interpretations; eat up those prophets, whose voices uncomfortably challenge us forward. Cheer for Israel’s triumphant return to history after 2,000 years and make her better. Bloom the desert with greens and green energy. Innovate for ourselves and for the world. And that crazy family of mine; they seem to reignite the social justice spark again and again with love, laughter and action. These are the sources of my inspiration.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

The Jewish people? Our role is to be an on-going, distinctive catalyst for the advancement and evolution of morality in civilization. And if that doesn’t work for you: Let’s just be a renewable light unto the nations. Given the earth-shattering moral global challenges facing the planet, someone’s got to do it, so it may as well be us.

Moria Gilbert, Environmental Activist

Photo of Yael Eliashar and Moria Gilbert

Left to right: Yael Eliashar and Moria Gilbert

Moria Gilbert, originally from Brooklyn, Jerusalem resident now and a true Jerusalemite at heart. Moria has worked at SPNI, Israel's largest environmental NGO, and now works with KKL-JNF, continuing her efforts to protect the natural beauty of Israel. She dabbles in restaurant reviewing when she is not busy saving trees and urban nature in Jerusalem. Moria also enjoys running half marathons (she believes half is just as good) with her group of strong women called- The Jerusalem Lionesses. Together they run the streets of Jerusalem, keeping up the spirits of all men and women in Jerusalem alike.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My inspiration is my colleague and mentor, Yael Eliashar. Yael was the director of the planning team at Israel's largest environmental NGO - the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).

We launched a campaign aimed to save the future of Jerusalem, our beloved city and home.

We set out on a mission, the few of us against the the decision makers, that outnumbered us.

We are still campaigning the fate of the Jerusalem Hills, but we are seeing cracks in the big defensive wall that was put up against us. Yael's determination and passion, to see our mission as possible, even when deemed impossible, gives everyone around her strength and convinced me to take on a personal challenges of my own, even when it seems all odds are stacked against me.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

The message I would like to convey to the Jews around the world, on the occasion of Tu Beshvat, the start of the new year to all trees, is to plant that one seed of courage and determination. Although it takes years to see the tree grow, from just a seed to a full grown blossoming tree, it is courage that makes us plant that seed at first, not seeing the full picture, determination to keep on watering the tree, our challenges and goals, that essentially results in our very own tree.

Our mission is to save to all those trees, on the Jerusalem Hills, planted with that one seed of courage by our forefathers and with our determination, we will continue celebrating many more happy new years with the trees, protecting our Jewish home, the green land of Israel.

Rabbi Dr. David J. Portowicz, Co-Founder and Chairman of The Jaffa Institute

Headshot of David Portowicz, founder of the Jaffa Institute

David Portowicz, an American born rabbi, co-founded the Jaffa Institute in 1982. Since then, the organization has provided educational, nutritional, therapeutic, and other social programs to some of Israel's poorest citizens, living in the area of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The organization helps thousands in need each year from impoverished children, to at-risk teens, to Holocaust survivors.

Rabbi Dr. David Portowicz 
completed Yeshiva College in 1970, received his Masters in Social Work from St. Louis University in 1972, and his Doctorate from Brandeis University in 1974. His professional experience includes a position as lecturer in the School of Social Work at Bar Ilan University, serving as the the Director of the Jewish Community Center of Jaffa, and serving as principal of both Leominster and Beth Shalom Hebrew Schools.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I stand at the head of a great team of professionals and volunteers who have made it their life’s mission to help those in need achieve the potential they have in them. The institution is The Jaffa Institute, founded by Col. Zonik Shaham and myself in the early 1980s. My team serves thousands of children, youth, families and senior citizens living in impoverished conditions in slum communities. Our services include social, educational, recreational and cultural activities that add purpose and quality to otherwise miserable lives.

I am personally inspired by the leaders of the Jewish community from the time of Moses, and afterwards the prophets, who were determined to serve the nation at the cost of their own benefit. They gave us the model for true altruism – genuine selflessness. Would that my deeds approximate theirs.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?Save & Stay

My message to all those who wish to make a difference in the lives of others who need help and intervention, is that once you’ve shown that you are able to make that change, you are obligated to continue doing so. It is no longer a question of if; you’ve shown it can be done. Go ahead and continue doing it until someday the problem will be resolved.

Rasha Athamni, Social Activist and Diplomat

Photo of Rasha Athmani shaking hands with Ban Ki-moon

Rasha Athmani (left) shakes hands with Ban Ki-moon, then Secretary General of the UN, during her term as youth delegate

Rasha was born, raised, and educated in Backa Algharybiya, an Arab town in Israel. She studied Psychology and English Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Rasha developed a taste for politics and social involvement after working in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, as a VIP tour guide in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. She was selected from hundreds of candidates to represent Israel as the first Youth Delegate to the UN. Since then, she has continued her activism in Israel and the international world, working with Seeds of Peace, an organization to help youth in the Middle East find common ground instead of conflict, and as a diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

The tenacious kindness of people in the region. There could be a hateful attack in Jerusalem, and minutes later, a religious Jewish man would keep the buzzing door to the train open for a Muslim woman to make it.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

Waking up every day as an Arab, of Palestinian descent, in Israel is challenging. If I can believe in peace, so can you. The range of the possibilities go only to the extent of one’s hope.

Joseph Gitler, Founder and Chairman of Leket Israel

After making Aliyah with his family in 2000, Joseph Gitler was astounded to learn that nearly one quarter of the population was living below the poverty line and suffering from food insecurity. As a result, in 2003, he founded Leket Israel – The National Food Bank. Since its founding, Leket has brought tens of thousands of tons of food to hundreds of thousands of Israel's neediest residents every week. They offer their assistance and nutritious meals on that basis alone, regardless of age, gender, religion, or ethnicity.

Where do I get my inspiration from?

After making Aliyah with my family in 2000, I was astounded to learn that nearly one quarter of the population was living below the poverty line and suffering from food insecurity. As a result, in 2003, I founded Leket Israel – The National Food Bank.

My inspiration comes from seeing Leket Israel grow and expand its activities; rescuing more excess food every year and providing even more people in need with this nutritious food. This gives me great satisfaction. However, even more than that, at Leket we are continuously striving to find new food sources so that this unique resource, surplus food, ends up with those in need of it rather than the in a landfill.

What message of inspiration do you want to share with Jews around the world?

Jews around the world can all help those in need and sometimes it can be as simple as sharing your excess food with someone who lacks the access to it themselves. There is enough food out there for everyone and no one should go hungry when there is so much quality food being wasted.


Now YOU have a chance to honor a person who has had an inspirational impact on YOUR life and YOUR personal connection to Israel!


Tu B'shevat, connecting to the Land of Israel through nature

About the Author

Molly Livingstone
Molly Livingstone is a freelance reporter and comedian, not to mention a mother of two, living in Jerusalem. While playing all those roles, the script remains the same, showing the world the Israel that she sees everyday, from the people and places, to the culture and definitely the food.

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Tags: Tu B'Shevat, Israel Engagement, Inspiration and Hope, People and Society