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The Gerald Cromer Paths of Peace Fund
“Pluralism is not the same thing as tolerance; Tolerance implies a willingness to put up with the other side, but pluralism suggests that everyone has something to offer." Prof Gerald Cromer, z”l
Eight years ago, with the premature passing of Prof Gerald Cromer z”l, his family and friends created a special fund in his memory to perpetuate his vision and values, in partnership with the New Israel Fund (NIF) and Signing Anew. Gerald tirelessly defended the principles of pluralism in Judaism, rooted in his profound understanding that in Judaism, there is more than one true answer and for the benefit of Israeli society, we need to hear as many of those voices as possible. Gerald’s commitment to Tikkun Olam and social justice, and his innovative way of thinking singled him out as an influential presence all his life, both in Britain where he was born and raised, and later in Israel.
Gerald was among the founding members of Kehilat Yedidia in Jerusalem, a pioneering Orthodox community that addresses issues of social justice and the inclusion of women. Gerald was also very involved in the founding of the Efrata Elementary School, which is dedicated not only to love of the Torah and Israel but also to the values of tolerance and moderation. In 1982, during the first Lebanon War, Gerald was among the founders of Netivot Shalom, a Zionist religious movement that advanced peace initiatives.
Gerald believed that Orthodox Jews have the unique opportunity to stand against extreme political incitement by those who sanctify Eretz Israel over the values of human rights, justice and peace, which are values that he saw as central to the Jewish tradition. Inspired by these values, Gerald was also involved in the publication of Shabbat Shalom, a weekly analysis of the Torah portion distributed in synagogues and on the internet, advancing a message of peace and social justice. With much sensitivity, he initiated a special reading of Megilat Eicha next to Yitzhak Rabin’s grave on Tisha B’Av. In the year of the disengagement from Gaza, he organized a moving event in Jerusalem sponsored by NIF where speakers from different sectors of the Israeli political and social spectrum shared their personal views on the implementation of the Government’s decision.
During Gerald’s last five years of life, he was active in the NIF, serving as member of the Board, and on the Pluralism and Shatil Committees, where he always advocated for a tolerant and open Judaism and for moral integrity.
Activities of the fund from 2008-2016 include:
The Fund was created to advance pluralism, Jewish ethics, and Tikkun Olam, while encouraging new initiatives that bring diverse groups together for the common good.
Based on these principles, in the last eight years, a committee comprised of members of the Cromer family and friends of the family has chosen an annual project among NIF’s grantees:
Promoting tolerant voices in the Orthodox community: Yud Bet B’Heshvan (2008) – A group of Rehovot parents, wishing to develop formal and informal educational programs for the national Orthodox sector, encouraging openness, pluralism and tolerance created this Forum.
Developing Secular Jewish Communities: Bina in Beer Sheva (2009) – This community project was created to advance Jewish renewal and community empowerment in disadvantaged neighborhoods in cooperation with the local residents. The project started in south Tel Aviv and expanded to the Daled neighborhood in Beer Sheva. Bina B’Schuna operates formal and informal educational activities for children and youth. The project also focuses on young adults, encouraging involvement in local social action projects, adult education and supporting the elderly.
Advancing Educational Opportunities for Religious Girls: Midreshet Kama – Modeled (2010) on Jerusalem’s Pelech School, Midreshet Kama was founded in Yeruham, aiming to provide religious girls from Mizrachi families with high quality education in an open environment, emphasizing the individual development of the students, community involvement and high academic achievement.
Judaism and Environment: Teva Ivri (2011)– This organization advances environmental and social responsibility inspired in Jewish tradition. It brings together religious and secular activists with the goal to develop a strong commitment for sustainable living among Israelis.
Judaism and Social Activism: Mimizrach Shemesh (2012) – This Beit Midrash and Center for Jewish Social Activism and Leadership advances social activism through the prism of the Mizrachi Jewish tradition. Mizrachi educators with the goal of nurturing leaders and activists who identify with the traditions of Mediterranean and North African Jews founded this organization. Today, Mimizrach Shemesh trains community leaders and rabbis and empowers the younger generation in the periphery.
Combating Racism: Tag Meir (“Light Tag”) Forum (2013)– With support and guidance from NIF, Yud Bet B’Heshvan established the Light Tag Forum in 2011 to express public solidarity with the victims of “price tag” attacks against non-Jews and human rights activists. Light Tag – which has now grown to include over 40 organizations – responds to price tag terror within 24-48 hours by holding solidarity demonstrations and visits with the victims. Light Tag works with NIF’s Public Advocacy Department and Shatil to strengthen its public campaigns through social media. Light Tag also advocates for increased government enforcement and proactive steps to reduce racism and incitement.
Creating a Common Vision: Shaharit (2014) – Founded in 2012, Shaharit aims to foster partnerships that cross the divides in Israeli society. It is devoted to public education: bringing all the voices of Israel society into the civic discourse, with empathy for each of its diverse pieces, and to creating a democratic conversation that allows all of the Israeli society’s mosaic to take part. From this fabric, a society will emerge that both strengthens its many social, cultural and religious communities, and simultaneously able to bring all together for a common cause. Its work includes conducting research and surveys, facilitating intellectual discussion and working with and establishing partnerships between representatives of different groups, particularly in the outlying and left-behind areas of Israeli society. One of its flagship programs is “120,” which seeks to identify young leaders in the various communities (religious, ethnic, and political) that comprise Israeli society and bring them together for a one-year program, in which they learn about each other’s communities and about new ways to build common ground in order to break through the dichotomies that define current Israeli politics.
Strengthening Moderate Voices in the Orthodox Community: Ne'emanei Torah V'Avodah (NTA) (2015) – NTA is dedicated to promoting a modern and moderate religious voice and to combating religious extremism. It aims to educate towards values of democracy, social solidarity and tolerance among the religious community. Its strategies include public education (through publications, seminars, symposia and parlor meeting), advocacy, networking and empowerment.
NTA's achievements over the past year include:
- A victory in its petition asking the High Court to require a more democratic process for the election of town rabbis and in the actual change in the regulations.
- Enactment of legislation on religion and state, which included changing the composition of the Rabbinical Court Judges Appointments Committee and the Conversion Law.
- Publication of six pamphlets for young people, on attitudes towards work, non-Jews, shared society, gender, etc.)
- A plan for differential budgeting in the education system, initiated by Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, was approved by the then–education minister Shai Piron. Efforts are now being made by civil society to promote this plan.
- Funding was canceled for a regulation that would permit gender separation of grades 4–6 in the State Religious school system.
- The L’maan Taskil project to bolster study of the natural sciences in the State Religious school system was launched, with the publication of research studies and a public campaign. Also published was a report on elitism within the religious education system as regards talmudei torah and “Torah cadres,” as part of a campaign to encourage parents to selecting regular integrated State Religious schools rather than elitist and selective schools.
In the past few years, NTA has initiated programs on college campuses in a project called "Time for Action." It was established to combat the trend towards insularity and extremism in the religious sector and operates at the five major Israeli universities. Each student group holds regular meetings and discussions on topics such as religion and state, gender, Judaism, pluralism and democracy. They also run social activities and Shabbat events. Since the program was established, NTA has provided leadership training for over 300 young leaders with a focus on efforts to advance moderate and democratic values in the religious community.
This year's activities also include: conducting a public campaign and litigation to set term limits for rabbis; and releasing a comprehensive survey of all the textbooks used in the State Religious system, with an emphasis on identifying gender discrimination and religious radicalization in them.
The Cromer Fund, in partnership with Signing Anew, gives an annual prize for projects that particularly reflect Gerald’s values. These include:
- The publication of Drishat Shalom, a compilation of articles by leading Israeli intellectuals on the weekly Torah portion.
- An interfaith empowerment course for Jewish, Muslim and Christian women leaders in Jerusalem run by Kolech, where the women acquired tools and knowledge in the area of women's status and community leadership.
- A project of the Reut school to advance Israeli-Ethiopian students by providing an outstanding educational experience and assisting their absorption into Israeli society while respecting their family heritage.
- A symposium, The Stranger within Us, held in March 2013 in the Van Leer Institute to mark five years since Gerald Cromer’s passing. The symposium included a session entitled The Stranger within Us: From the Sources with presentations by Rabbi Daniel Epstein of Matan and Midreshet Lindenbaum and Prof. Elchanan Reiner of Tel Aviv University. The session on The Stranger within Us: From Halachah to Action included Prof. Menachem Klein of Bar Ilan University and Ir Amim Board Member; Sari Bashi, founding member and Executive Director of Gisha, Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; and Drori Yehoshua, founding member of Memizrach Shemesh.
- Eretz Shalom, a social action organization that is dedicated to bringing peace efforts and initiatives to closer and more essential circles than those dealing with politics. Eretz Shalom envisions a different kind of partnership between Palestinian villages and neighboring Jewish settlements based on the acceptance of the other and the potential for cooperation and mutual respect.
- After attending the Social and Economic Academy (SEA) Social Policy and Local Government course for ultra-Orthodox Women, Michal Zernowitski went on to establish a political ticket comprised only of ultra-Orthodox women from the city of Elad. For the first time in Israel, women vied for a seat on a city council of an ultra-Orthodox community, to promote women’s political involvement and social justice. This led to a course and workshop program with the SEA, for men and women from different parts of the city to come together and learn. Due to the success of these courses, SEA with the support of the Cromer Fund expanded this program to another area with high concentrations of ultra-Orthodox.
- A summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian children was organized in the summer of 2015 by the Roots project which brings Israelis and Palestinians together with monthly meetings between Israeli and Palestinian families, a women's group, engagement with local leaders and cultural exchanges. The summer camp was run by the Alternative Center in the Galilee, based on its extensive experience working with Jewish and Arab children.
- This year, the Cromer Fund has decided to award the prize to Shoval, an organization which promotes tolerance towards the LGBT community in the National Religious sector. Shoval is operated by members of the gay religious community and reaches out to religious schools, yeshivas and ulpanas, meets with the educational staff and presents the personal and individual stories of members of the Orthodox LGBT community. For many of the educators, it is the first time they are meeting a gay person. Shoval's project coordinator operates a network of 70 volunteers who participate in these meetings to share their struggle with their sexual orientation and to raise awareness in the religious community that there is another side to the gay community and that it is possible to combine a religious and gay lifestyle. The volunteers have an advantage in reaching the religious community, because they come from the community itself and are familiar with the community's language and culture. Shoval is now also reaching out to Haredi schools and has recently begun cooperating with the Ministry of Education. In the 2015-16 school year, Shoval is now meeting with directly with students and also with participants in pre-army mechina programs.
SHARED SOCIETY ACTIVISM POOL
Concerned with the growing schisms in Israeli society, the Gerald Cromer Paths to Peace Fund generously established this year the Shared Society Activism Seed Pool that provided small grants to emerging grassroots initiatives and activists in the field that develop or strengthen models of shared society. This new seed pool is supporting the following initiatives:
- Kamun – Kamanneh Partnership – Kamun and Kamanneh are two small towns located on the same mountain in the Galilee. Kamun is a small Jewish town established in the 1980s, home to about 600 residents, and neighboring Kamanneh is a Bedouin town, home to about 1,000 residents. While tense relations have developed over the years between the two towns, a group of Jewish residents from Kamun reached out to their neighbors in Kamanneh to start a dialogue group, to get to know one another on a personal level, to develop a more positive discourse, and to eventually plan shared activities.
- Dugrinet (Dugri means 'straight talk' in Arabic and in Hebrew slang) – This project focuses on online activities, as well as field trips and public events. The online magazine contains rich and varied articles about issues related to shared society in the Galilee, opinion and blogs on culture, education, environment, youth, religion, tourism and the NGO world. It brings together Arabs and Jews from throughout the region through shared interests and concerns, creates an open, pluralistic and bilingual space for community news, opinions, organizes community initiatives and events and provides a platform for activists and NGOs to broaden their reach and effect. Dugrinet is the only bilingual news source for the Galilee and the only community-run project that combines online media and community-based initiatives.
- The Bustan in Tamra-Misgav – Located in the Arab village of Tamra, the Bustan is a shared Jewish-Arab project that was established by the family of Omri Goldin, who was killed in a suicide attack. His parents decided to establish the Bustan in his memory and dedicate it towards improving relations between Jewish and Arab children in the area. In the heart of the Galilee, the Bustan is a place for Jews and Arabs to learn about agriculture, ecology, and one another. One of the Bustan's leading programs is a series of meetings for students from Jewish and Arab sister schools, who participate in activities at the Bustan. The Cromer Fund is supporting a group of the parents who wanted to meet to get to know each other better, and think of ways to improve relations between Jews and Arabs in the area.
- Student Group at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva – The Cromer Fund is supporting the Multaka-Mifgash Center for Arab-Jewish Understanding which brings together Ben Gurion University students and local Bedouin residents as a way to change the way people think and to dispel myths and prejudices.
- Shared Cultural Spacer in Carmiel – Carmiel, located in Northern Israel, is considered a Jewish development town. However, more and more Arab families are moving there due to the lack of housing alternatives in nearby Arab villages. Carmiel is now home to 1,000 Arab-speaking families, representing 3-5% of the total population. There are currently no Arabic pre-schools or cultural centers to serve the Arabic-speaking population or to facilitate meeting points between Jewish and Arab resident of Carmiel. A group of Jewish and Arab community leaders are working together to promote the idea of a shared Jewish-Arab cultural space in Carmiel.
- Shatil Training Program for Ethiopian Activists in Ramle – The Ethiopian Ramle activist group, numbering a core group of 14-20 activists, has been operating for over three and a half years. Members come together once a week, with Shatil's Gidon Ambaya facilitating the meetings and discussions. During this time the group has managed to be active both on issues of national importance including the racism and discrimination and effective tactics to combat them. They also deal with issues of local concern such as the relations between the different minority groups in Ramle and group members meet regularly with leaders of the Arab community. Through its commitment and ongoing level of activity, the Ramle group has proven itself as a model for activism and local investment for Ethiopian communities elsewhere. They will be holding an intensive weekend seminar in March to allow for sustained and deeper discussions, including with outside experts and to set the agenda for the group for the coming year.
 Shaharit was a project at the Heschel Center from 2009-June 2012, and became an independent organization in July 2012.