On September 10th, hundreds of members of the NIFC family in Toronto, and hundreds more across Canada, joined us to hear from authors Ayelet Waldman and Peter Beinart, and refugee and activist Mutasim Ali. If you were fortunate enough to hear these gifted speakers, you no doubt agree with me that they are, each in their own way, exemplars of courage and commitment.
But as Ayelet and Peter told us, heroism is something different. Mutasim’s story of escape from genocide in Darfur, of surviving torture, and trekking across the Sinai desert to Israel is a story of heroism. His leadership of the asylum seekers in the Negev detention camp and his advocacy for refugees since becoming the first African asylum seeker to be granted refugee status in Israel are heroic.
As supporters of the New Israel Fund of Canada, we get to see and hear about the important work done by people like Mutasim every day. The funds contributed by our donors support these heroic efforts, empowering the people working on the ground in Israel to build a strong civil society, protect rights for refugees and asylum seekers, ensure equality for Jewish people across the whole spectrum of beliefs, and enhance dignity for women.
The heroism of these activists is important because the actions by which they earn that moniker are what actually drive change, making Israel a better place for all. But that isn’t the only reason we value these everyday heroes. Their selfless actions, their tireless efforts, and their heartfelt kavanah also inspire others. They inspire others in Israel to take up important causes, and they inspire us in Canada to support the activists with our voices and our wallets.
Both these facets of their heroism are particularly important today. When we read the news, check our social media feeds, or talk about current events around the holiday table, we cannot help but wonder what led us to this time and place, and how we can continue to do the work of tikkun olam. The examples set by Mutasim and so many others in Israel help to answer at least the second part of that question. How we got here may be complicated, but how we repair the world is less so. Empowering those around us has a snowball effect, inspiring yet others, lifting more people up, and breaking down barriers.
As Yom Kippur approaches, the example set by today’s heroes gives form to Isaiah’s explanation of the sort of fast we are meant to undertake: not simply to abstain from food and continue on as normal, but to “loose the chains of injustice … and to set the oppressed free.”
In the coming year, let us make the change we can in our own communities, and continue to generously support and empower the change-makers, the heroes, loosing the chains of injustice in Israel.
Shana Tova and G’mar Chatima Tova,
NIFC Board of Directors