A Shabbat Salon - Jewish Peoplehood in 2014

A monthly Shabbat Salon for Sabras, Anglos and the new wave of French olim (immigrants to Israel) to connect, unify, promote Jewish peoplehood, and dissolve cultural barriers

Year founded: 2014


During Summer 2014, Israel experienced a record fall in international support as it embarked on Operation Protective Edge to protect civilians from kidnappings and rocket attacks. Simultaneously, the Jewish community witnessed a record rise in global antisemitism with vitriolic language, protests and violent attacks ranging from Montreal Canada to Sydney Australia to countries throughout Europe. This phenomenon was experienced most intensely in France with firebombs, the vandalizing of synagogues and kosher stores, and violent physical assaults. Jewish Agency chairman and former Minister Natan Sharansky estimates that over 6,000 French Jews will emigrate to Israel in 2014. (Over 1,000 French olim emigrated to Israel this past month alone in a series of aliyah flights initiated as a direct response to the war-induced antisemitism.) Of all immigrant groups moving to Israel in 2014, the French olim are currently the largest, the most culturally isolated and the population without any organization dedicated to their integration into society at large. (Though the Jewish Agency organizes the logistical aliyah of French immigrants, they do not provide for continued programming once the French arrive and Nefesh B'Nefesh does not serve this population.) When the war started this summer, philanthropic funds poured into Israel to help lone soldiers, Israeli children and families in Sderot. But little attention was paid and no funding was directed to the Jewish communities experiencing the traumatic side effects of the war, and to those who were compelled to emigrate and establish their new lives in Israel for the simple right to live openly and safely as Jews. My proposal is the Shabbat Salon. Comprised of two words that are equally native to and understood by Hebrew-speakers, English-speakers and French-speakers, the Shabbat Salon will convene groups of Israeli sabras, Anglo immigrants and French olim (three populations that are fairly segmented and rarely mix) for monthly Shabbat experiences, dinners and conversations. Every salon will have a Jewish theme, speaker or discussion as well as a demographic balance of the various cultural groups. The salon will provide a supportive structure for the integration of new French olim, as well as build cross-cultural friendships and connections in a deeply Jewish way. I will co-host the salon along with my fiance David Abitbol. Our backgrounds complement each other and are ideal for this project. I am an outgoing, fiercely dedicated and welcoming community organizer with a successful track record of implementing projects - including the Judaism by RV Faces of Israel Engagement and Education tour sponsored by NATAN in 2013. I am fluent in English, Hebrew and Spanish. As the founder of Jewlicious (both the blog and festival), David Abitbol is a lifelong Jewish community organizer with a specialization in informal education and innovative programming. Born in Israel, raised in Montreal and having lived in France, David is fluent in French, English and Hebrew and is dedicated to the realization of this idea. It is important that the number of attendees at salons be small (perhaps 10-25 people per salon, depending on the nature of the event) in order to facilitate meaningful interaction and conversation. The requested funds ($12,000) would be used to retain a location, cover speakers, compensate us as project organizers and subsidize food for the Shabbat dinner salon. Impact would be quantitatively measured by the number of individuals who attend, the number of spin-off events and gathering that the salon generates and the continuity of the project. Impact would be qualitatively measured by the caliber of connection, presentation and conversation at each salon. This project has the potential to be a one-off, time-sensitive and incredibly relevant initiative, or to continue in its own right as a long-term program that is adopted by a local organization. The NATAN grant would serve an important need in the Jewish community and serve as a pilot to determine the future viability and sustainability of this program. Addendum - Shabbat Salon FAQ: 1. How this is different than Shabbat programs that already exist? It is meant to be a combination Salon/Shabbat program. It is more intimate than a Salon and as such is meant to encourage the forging of real connections as people talk to each other and break bread together. The meals will be both kosher and nutritious and the atmosphere will be comfortable for everyone, from the most secular to the most religious. However, the thrust will be less religious and more about encouraging interaction that transcends the linguistic, cultural and denominational differences that serve often to separate us. 2. How do you have access to the French olim? I actually studied French and speak it a little. My Fiancee David, who has agreed to help, used to live in France and speaks French fluently. Between us we are friendly with a core group of more established French olim who can act as a conduit to help us get the word out to that often insular community. David also runs Jewlicious.com and in that capacity has access to the leadership of the European Union of Jewish Students with whom he has worked on projects like the Muslim Jewish Conference. He is also on friendly terms with French Jewish bloggers, and all of these would be recruited to get the word out. For my part, I travel in many different circles and would have an easy time getting interesting young Israelis involved who I know from my various extracurricular activities. We are both well established in the Anglo community, so getting them involved would not be a problem. 3. Why would they attend your programming? One of the challenges of being a recent immigrant to Israel is to be able to network beyond your immediate community. There are many olim who have been here for years and don't have a single significant friend who isn't from their country of origin. Similarly, there are many Israelis who rarely have any meaningful interaction with anyone from the oleh community, regardless of their country of origin. However, there are many things to be gained from encouraging such interaction. For instance, navigating through any of the challenges that life in Israel presents is so much easier when you have a native Israeli friend to guide you. Conversely, life in Israel can be stifling for an Israeli who only hangs out with other Israelis. Meeting and interacting with people from other countries who have chosen to move here exposes Israelis to a different culture, new perspectives and perhaps a keener appreciation for the intricacies and nuances of Jewish peoplehood. In brief, we seek to foster a convivial and cosmopolitan atmosphere that will help bring together members of disparate communities in the hopes of sparking synergistic relationships. People will come because the environment is cool and stimulating - and they will eat well. We are Jewish after all - everyone gets fed! 4. What's unique about the programming? For starters, nothing like this exists outside an established organizational structure. There are scant opportunities for individuals from different communities to effectively interact in a comfortable, intimate and intellectually stimulating environment. What opportunities do exist, do so in the context of organizations who have an over arching agenda, usually involving religious Kiruv or politics, and even those tend to focus on specific communities. These offer little in the way of the possibility of breaking out of cultural/linguistic ghettos. Our program will focus on encouraging cross-cultural / cross-denominational interaction and integration while informally examining relevant topics and issues of the day as opposed to long, rambling Talmudic discourses on this week's Torah portion. 5. How is this program poised to help French immigrants integrate more into Israeli society than government run programs? Our goals are modest and we don't seek to replace whatever government run programs already exist. Those programs are important and provide many of the building blocks needed to integrate into Israeli society. I think our program will complement existing programs - for instance, the government provides Ulpan to teach immigrants Hebrew. We'll provide Israelis with whom olim can converse. Giving olim the opportunity to forge significant connections and friendships with Israelis is the best way to help said olim integrate into Israeli society. There's also something to be said about the reciprocal nature of this program as the Israelis are poised to benefit from said interaction at least as much as the olim.

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