“The people demand social justice,” was the slogan of the big social protest in Israel of 2011. Who would have thought that during COVID-19 the next social protest would arise and occupy the public agenda more than the COVID-19 crisis? Those who failed to understand this were wrong.The cost of living and the desire to promote an egalitarian and just society are issues are always here. COVID-19 only increased the gaps between the center and the periphery, between the majority and the minority, and between the authorities, the statements of political leadership and what is happening on the ground. The International Day of Justice this coming Sunday more than ever is an opportunity to remind us of words we have already forgotten: Zionism, socialism, the brotherhood of nations – words I used to wake up to every morning, and are still relevant.However, in Israel, in 2022, the responsibility for social solidarity and the promotion of social justice is in the hands of philanthropists and civil society and less in the hands of the state.As the daughter of Holocaust survivor parents who came to the Promised Land, these values were a significant and present part of my life. My parents immigrated to Israel from Poland as pioneers, idealists and Zionists out of a desire to establish a exemplary society in Eretz Israel. Over the years, the values I grew up on and were part of the country in the making became blurry. Today alienation, a struggle between the “tribes,” and capitalism are the common words. Media and entertainment idols are revered and successful figures and those who promote a social agenda do not make the headlines.
The figures speak for themselves: There are currently 280 young communities in 90 localities in Israel, where about 15,000 members are active, and each year tens of thousands more activists and residents of the wider community join them. For me, they are the pioneers who have come to bring back our glory and create social justice and an exemplary society.From youth clubs for the benefit of children and youth at risk to learning centers for the benefit of children whose achievements are low, from creating meetings between Jews and Arabs to secular and religious encounters, from concern for the elderly population to developing multicultural programs to strengthen the identity of immigrants, these create intercultural encounters to strengthen the connection between the diverse populations in Israeli society and are actions that promote community resilience.The young people in the communities work to create equal opportunities for each and every person, strengthen the sense of belonging among the citizens of the country, take responsibility and develop local leadership. Their activities are based on the principles of human dignity, they are free of biases and strive to regulate the relationship between people and institutions. This is social justice to me. The centers of social justice established by the members of the communities in the geosocial periphery promote political action and discourse, giving a platform to various voices, while ensuring a democratic, open discourse that serves as an alternative to the voices of division, hatred and incitement.During the peak of COVID-19 isolations and quarantines, the members of intentional communities were at the forefront of civil society in dealing with the crisis. They reached children, the elderly and needy populations. They went out to encourage and raise awareness of vaccination against the virus, established a human social network for the elderly and made sure they were not left alone. The elderly were provided with a response to their physical needs, such as medicine, food, accompaniment for medical care and home visits.Hundreds of children have been provided with support for educational gaps created by members of communities. Additionally, they worked to strengthen local culture and operated a variety of plays and recreational activities in a careful, open-air format, in theater performances at home and zoom screenings for the general public.The contribution of communities in making society more egalitarian and just breaks the boundaries of local activity in the neighborhoods in which they operate and succeeds in making an impact at the national level. The infrastructure and activity already exist on the ground and have proven themselves for many years. In order for the Zionist enterprise model in 2022 to continue to exist, we need to continue our partnership with the government and increase their investment for the movement of intentional communities.
Our state and elected officials begin to understand what philanthropists have been understanding for over a decade: These young women and young people ensure that my parents’ dream of establishing an exemplary society for the Jewish people in Israel, which will operate according to the values of social justice and serve as a light unto the nations, will continue to be part of the reality of Israeli society.The writer is CEO of the Shahaf Foundation.