18 Seeds of Inspiration from Israel

Tags: Tu B'Shevat, Land and Nature, Israel Engagement, Molly Livingstone

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

Reuven Karasik is a 15 year old who doesn't go to school. Instead, he spends his time building cool websites, plugins and tools for a few of Jerusalem's startups. He also organizes Meetups, events and Hackathons in the city as part of Made in Jerusalem. Check out his website HERE.

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 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 Founder of the KnowItAlls

Dr. Yael Schuster, aka Dr. Mom, is a research scientist at a leading research institute, an educator, and a mother of two. Yael is the founder of 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. The KnowItAlls recently launched their first in a line of science toys on Kickstarter, and just returned from a world tour of workshops and educator training.

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, Knesset Member

Rachel Azaria is a Member of Knesset with The Kulanu party, in her first term. She is a member of the Finance Committee and Interior Affairs Committee. As a Member of Knesset Rachel Azaria focuses on Labor laws, Women's affairs, and redefining religion and state. She serves as a member of the appropriations committee, internal affairs committee, and ethics committee. Prior to running for Knesset, Azaria served as Deputy Mayor and member of the Jerusalem City Council, where she was party chair and held portfolios related to education and community councils. 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. Azaria started her public activity as an environmental activist in 1998, serving as a board member of Israel’s largest volunteer-based environmental organization Megama Yeruka, and today she is a joint chairman of the Knesset Environmental Lobby. Follow her on Facebook HERE.

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, The Israel Story

Mishy Harman is the host of the 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 is currently finishing up his doctorate at the 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, Deputy Director of Communications and Knesset & Government Liaison at NGO Monitor

Lena Bakman is Deputy Director of Communications and Knesset & Government Liaison at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem based research institute. Prior that role, Lena served as a spokesperson and parliamentary advisor to (former) Member of Knesset and Chair of Education committee and Chair of the Diaspora committee, Dr. Einat Wilf. 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 Journalists and Spokespersons group on Facebook. For more info, visit her website HERE.

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 anti semitism and racism, create coalitions around the globe in order to advance the human kind for a brighter future for next generations.

Noam Chen, Photographer

Noam Chen is a freelance photographer, specializing in Landscape 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 has held his first solo exhibition “Photography in Another Dimension”. Some of the photos were later chosen to be displayed in Paris, France, as part of an exhibition by The Contemporary Artists of Israel. Among his clients are the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, real estate companies, advertising agencies, galleries and hotels. Visit Noam's website HERE.

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 evolves 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 me how they experience the Holy Land through my photos, how they feel as if it's visiting Israel although not being able to come, 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, Social Media Activist

Laura Ben-David is a 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, Aliyah & social media - and sometimes all three at once. Read some of her stories on The Israel Forever Blog HERE and visit her website HERE.

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

The Foundation was created in the wake of the tragic murder of 13 year old Koby Mandell, son of Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell, as he was hiking in the canyon behind his family home in 2001. The Koby Mandell Foundation is dedicated to helping bereaved families heal from terror and other tragedies. Programs included 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 high 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 & CEO, Innovation: Africa

Sivan Yaari is the Founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa. Born in Israel and raised in France, Sivan has been working in Africa for close to 20 years. Her time on the African continent began while working with a major multinational corporation in 1999. Following two years in the finance world, Sivan worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on diesel energy development. It was during this time that she realized the importance of a more sustainable energy solution, and developed the groundwork for what would become Innovation: Africa. Sivan graduated summa cum laude with a degree in finance from Pace University and holds a Master's degree in International and Public Affairs. Sivan was recently recognized by Globes magazine as on of the "40 under 40 most promising Israelis". She lives in Tel Aviv with her husband and three children.

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 drink the dirty water only to become sick. Now sick, finding a medical clinic is as much a dead end as much as it is when you enter one. In a medical center, there are no doctors, no vaccines and little to no medicine because there is no electricity to store vaccines and medicine and there are no refrigerators. 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, eight years later and over 100 solar and water projects completed, close to one million people have it and they have made it 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 Jeiwsh, 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

Father Naddaf is an Israeli priest dedicated to integrating the Christian community in Israel within the Israeli society and army. Learn more HERE.

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 Emotional Support of Fiancees of Fallen Soldiers of the IDF

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. Together with her daughter Tamar, she founded "The Non-Profit Organization for the Emotional Support of Fiancees of Fallen Soldiers of the IDF" in 1997. 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, Chairman, 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 Jerusalem-based group that reaches out and assists Lost Tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish people.In addition, Freund is a correspondent and syndicated columnist for the Jerusalem Post, Israel's largest English-language daily. 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 the past 20 years and 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 Direct and Co-founder 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 people with disabilities. Shutaf is committed to an inclusive teaching model that welcomes all participants - with and without disabilities - regardless of religious, cultural and socioeconomic differences. 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, Solar Power Developer

Co-founder of the solar industries in Israel, East Africa, West Africa and elsewhere, Yosef Abramowitz was named by CNN as one of six global Green Pioneers. He serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, an impact investment solar and social development enterprise focussed on bringing power to the people of Africa, and recently served on the official Israeli delegation to the Paris Climate Conference. Married to Rabbi Susan Silverman, they nurture five children who have sprouted gloriously and whose story is told in the forthcoming “Casting Lots: Raising a family in a beautiful, broken world.” (Da Capo, April, 2016). More info his website HERE.

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

Moria Gilbert, originally from Brooklyn, Jerusalem resident now and a true Jerusalemite at heart. Moria works at SPNI, Israel's largest NGO for the protection of Nature in Israel, and 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 is 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, exactly one year ago, aimed to save the future of Jerusalem.

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.

Dr. David J. Portowicz, Chairman & Founder of The Jaffa Institute

David, an American born rabbi, co-founded the Jaffa Institute in 1982. He received his Doctorate from Brandeis University in 1974, his Masters in Social Work from St. Louis University in 1972, and completed Yeshiva College in 1970. His professional experience includes his current position as lecturer in the School of Social Work at Bar Ilan University, a role he’s occupied since 1975. Prior to establishing the Jaffa Institute, David was the Director of the Jewish Community Center of Jaffa and was Principal of both Leominster and Beth Shalom Hebrew Schools. He is married with four children and twenty two grandchildren.

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 34 years ago. My team serves over 4,500 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?

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

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. Over a year ago, she was selected from hundreds of candidates to represent Israel as the first Youth Delegate to the UN.

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.

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, Land and Nature, Israel Engagement, Molly Livingstone