Jewish Post

Remarks by Ami Nahshon, president and CEO of The Abraham Fund Initiatives.

Thank you Reza.  You’ve given us a great deal to think about, and wrestle with.  [With the diversity of people and views in the room, I expect that some members of the audience might take exception to a few of your conclusions, but that’s what makes for an interesting program…and you have certainly given us that!]

I also want to thank you for your gracious remarks in support of The Abraham Fund’s work, and of our vision for a shared society in Israel.  We believe that it is a matter of fundamental self-interest for Israel to set right the relations between her Jewish and Arab citizens, and the relations between the state itself and its 20% Arab minority.

Why?  Because we believe that the pathway to a sustainable, secure and just democracy in Israel runs straight through the intersection of Jewish-Arab relations.  There’s no way around it, and no easy shortcut.  I also believe that “getting it right” on the domestic front – building a shared society for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens – is a precondition to Israel’s achieving a future of peaceful relations with her Arab neighbors.

As our Chairman Alan Slifka remarked earlier, repairing majority-minority relations requires hard work, and a sustained commitment by both communities.  That hard work is what The Abraham Fund has been about since its founding 18 years ago.  Through a combination of people, vision and resources, we’ve worked hard, and continue to work hard, to achieve our goals.  So allow me to take a few moments to talk about those three critical ingredients for success – people, vision and resources.

This year, The Abraham Fund family lost two very important members, each of whom has left an indelible mark on those of us who had the privilege to know them; and each of them was taken from us much too soon.  We pay tribute this evening to the memories of our American colleague Judith Schnelwar Gladstein and our Israeli colleague Jalal abu Toameh.

Judy was a “true believer” in our cause.  She lived it, and breathed it, and talked to people about it wherever she went.  She served for years as an active member of our Grants Committee, and supported The Abraham Fund – through her and Gary’s philanthropy, along with other coexistence programs in Israel and beyond.  Judy would have been very proud of the outpouring of tribute gifts made to The Abraham Fund in her memory, allowing us to expand our work, as she was always encouraging us to do.  Gary, as a member of our Executive Committee and Board, I know you’re representing Judy too as you help our organization move forward, and we thank you.

Jalal abu Toameh was a modest man with ambitious – yet simple – visions for the State of Israel.  Whether as mayor of the Arab town of Baqa el Gharbiye, or as a cornerstone of The Abraham Fund’s public leadership in Israel, or as a passionate olive grower working in partnership with the Jewish kibbutz next door – Jalal believed that coexistence was the only way forward, for Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens alike

I am proud to announce tonight that The Abraham Fund has established the Jalal abu Toameh Memorial Scholarship at Tel Aviv University, to each year support one or two promising young Arab graduate students in the Masters or Doctorate program in conflict resolution, one of Jalal’s important pursuits after retiring from political life.  The first awards will be made later this month, with the family’s participation.  [PAUSE…]

We miss Judy and Jalal dearly, and we know that they would both be proud of the many new people who have stepped up during the past year – both to support us financially and to devote their time and energies to helping us grow.  Americans, Europeans and Israelis – Arabs and Jews – and are now knit together as part of a seamless whole, leading The Abraham Fund to its next stage of achievement.  I wish I could speak about each of our new Board leaders, because there is much to be said, but in the meantime, I encourage you to look at the back of your printed program for a listing of our newly-elected International Board of Directors.

This would also be a wonderful time to acknowledge the tremendous work of our Abraham Fund staff, both in our Jerusalem and New York offices.  Our Israel Director, Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and his staff team are doing an incredible job every day to advance our goals and to make our programs sing.

Here in the US, I want to pay special tribute to our New York staff, for their dedicated, year-round work, and especially for making this evening so special.  Let me begin by thanking Michael Greenberg, our International Director of Development, who is playing such an outstanding role in helping grow our organization, and in giving overall leadership to this gathering.  Our very special Dinner Coordinator and development associate, Tanja Sarett, who has now managed her second Abraham Fund annual gala with great skill and grace.  And our finance manager Carol Welker, office manager Angie Smith and campaign associate Albert Aeed, each of whom has played a very important role in planning and managing tonight’s gathering.  Thanks to all of you… [APPLAUSE…]

And I must join Orni in once again thanking our chairman for the evening, Rabbi Jonathan Lipnick, and his Benefit Committee, for their wonderful partnership and dedication.  [APPLAUSE…]

The men and women of our Board and staff – here and in Israel – will lead us into the next stage of our development – which brings me to the “vision” part of my comment.  Since its founding in 1989, The Abraham Fund has played a pioneering role in the field of Jewish-Arab coexistence.  20 years ago, simply committing to that goal was pioneering in and of itself.

But over the next decade and a half, The Abraham Fund distributed millions in grants to help many hundreds of Arab-Jewish cooperative projects get off the ground.  Then, some 5 years ago, the organization decided that it was time to ratchet up – to use the lessons learned and the relationships earned to launch a series of regional and national initiatives, each aimed at changing the landscape of Jewish-Arab relations. 

You’ve seen a few of these initiatives in the film, and you can read about others in our printed materials.  But the goal of each is the same – changing not just individuals, but changing communities; transforming institutions and giving them the tools to contribute to a shared and equitable society.  Work we were called upon to do during the Lebanon War.  Work we are called upon to do every day of the year.

Whether it’s the national police, or the education system, or the finance ministry or the civil service commission – the goal today is changing the institutions of society. 

Now we are poised to push forward into the third phase of our existence, with your help.  As we look around us, we see much to be proud of, and also a great deal to worry about.  Voices at the extremes – in both communities – are getting louder and more strident.  The Abraham Fund must strengthen the voice of the “radical middle” – the voices of those who, like us, believe passionately that the only path is a shared path, and are prepared to defend that belief with all our energies.

We must redouble our advocacy work – with government, with civil society leaders in both communities, and with the business sector too – to make the case for equal opportunity, for fairness, and for shared goals.  In order to accomplish that aim, The Abraham Fund will launch a new department of Advocacy and Public Policy, to continue the process begun 5 years ago – understanding that “projects on the ground” are tools, but that social transformation is the business we’re in

A tall order, but one we can meet, with your help, and with an ever-widening circle of Abraham Fund partners and funders.  In the past year alone, The Abraham Fund:

  1. Received first-time grants from the European Union & the US Dep’t of State
  2. Was chosen as the partner of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the national UJA-Federation system for their first-ever funding of Jewish-Arab projects
  3. Opened a department of European fundraising based in the Israel office
  4. Established a “Friends of The Abraham Fund” in the United Kingdom
  5. Begun to plan for fundraising outreach in Germany, Scandinavia and beyond
  6. Helped in the establishment of a new national Task Force in the US, and of a new Venture Philanthropy Fund within the Federation system to support our issue
  7. More than doubled our media exposure, in Israel, Europe and the US
  8. And, as Jonathan reported, set new fundraising records, surpassing our previous highs by more than 20%.

And yet, none of this is enough to tackle the huge challenges that lie before us.  I invite those of you who can to ratchet up your support.  I invite those who have friends who can help to talk to them about The Abraham Fund.  And I invite each and every one of you to take pride in what you are accomplishing here.  May we meet again next year to celebrate new achievements in our quest for a secure and just Israel. 

Thank you.

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