South Africa Israel Academic Outreach

The SA-Israel Science Student Scholarship

By Benji Shulman and Terri Levin

South African campuses face an organised campaign of boycotts. It is time to push back by showing the beneficial aspects of education and knowledge sharing between two world-renowned universities. It is about building bridges through engagement and academic collaboration.

Two UCT science students have been offered by the Weizmann Institute of Science, the phenomenal opportunity to attend an invaluable 3-month research scholarship at their esteemed institution in Israel. This once in a lifetime scholarship will enrich the research capacity of the next generation of UCT scientists.

image006 (9)
Enriching Next Generation. University Of Cape Town, South Africa where two students have been offered a 3-month research scholarship at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the world’s leading multi-disciplinary basic research institutions in the natural and exact sciences and over the years, its researchers have been the recipients 6 Nobel Prizes, as well as 3 Turing Awards.

The Weizmann Institute also enjoys an enriching history with South Africa and UCT starting with Israel’s first state President Chaim Weizmann, of whom the Weizmann Institute is named after. Weizmann made an important visit to South Africa in the 1932, where he met with the leadership of the various Jewish communities across the country.

Israel’s finest diplomat, Abba Eban – the esteemed Minister of Foreign Affairs, Education Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Ambassador to the UN and Vice President of the UN General Assembly  and who was President of the Weizmann Institute of Science  from 1959 to1966, was born in Cape Town on the 2 February 1915 to Lithuanian parents.

image002 (72)
Creative Campus. Searching for answers on a campus parading exquisite beauty.

More recently and exemplifying an enriching academic nexus between UCT and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Johannesburg born Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz but who obtained his BSc. in Electrical Engineering from UCT, was awarded in 2016 the Israel Prize for ‘Chemistry and Physics’ with Prof. Meir Lahav.  Israel’s most prestigious award was awarded to Prof. Leiserowitz for his work in the field of ‘Crystallization” that tries to answer questions like:

How and why do artery-blocking chunks of cholesterol form?”

What happens at the very first stage of the transition from water to ice?”

What can be done to prevent the formation of gallstones or the crystals in the joints that cause pain in gout?”

Finding solutions to problems is what science is about, and these are the challenges of our universities and future generations of students.

There is much that can be gained by strengthening the academic relationship with South Africa’s premier university UCT and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science which is constantly in the vanguard of scientific breakthroughs that have resulted in a wide range of patented technologies that make the world a better, safer, and healthier place.

More specifically with South Africa that needs to confront the challenges in both water management, entrepreneurship, health and improved methods of agriculture for a large rural population, the Weizmann Institute is well positioned to serve South Africa’s specific needs.

image005 (70)
Confronting The Future. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world’s top-ranking multi-disciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute’s research efforts include searching for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.

Established in 1934, 14 years before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Weizmann Institute has been in the forefront of research to optimise its land mass, most of which is dry and much of it desert. The role it has played in increasing crop yields with the latest in scientific methods and of contributing to the greening of its desert is exemplary.

South Africa can benefit from its experience and expertise.

image001 (80)
Walk In The Park. Away from the lecture halls and laboratories, the Weizmann Institute’s parkland offers areas to appreciate as well as contemplate the challenges of nature.

Education, dialogue and the strengthening of ties between Israel and South Africa are at the epicentre of the South Africa Friends of Israel (SAFI) mandate, which gels perfectly in facilitating the partnership between these two outstanding universities. A flagship initiative of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), SAFI engages with other faiths, cultural and ethnic groups in the interests of building a broader grass roots support base for Israel in South Africa.

So important is this initiative being valued that the Weizmann Institute has pledged to match our contribution, if we raise the required amount of funds. So, we are appealing to YOU, for support, which will enable and empower these two deserving students, thereby helping UCT and South Africa in the field of science research.

image004 (74)
Under The Dome. Brilliant sunlight combined with brilliant ideas prevail in this EcoSphere in the Clore Garden of Science at the Weizmann Institute which is designed to raise the ecological consciousness of the public. The dome contains land and water plants, fish and algae and the energy for all the natural processes comes from the sunlight streaming through the panes of the dome.

By pledging R50 or more, you are supporting the SA-Israel Science Student Scholarship. DONATE HERE and you can save Academic Freedom

Please include as a reference: “your name” and “SAVEUCT” 

The SA-Israel Science Student Scholarship is an independent initiative that aims to support academic collaboration in Israel and South Africa. The convening committee has academics from both countries and members of the community. All monies collected are to be spent directly on the beneficiaries.

image008 (36)
Man With A Mission. Visionary Dr. Chaim Weizmann, an organic chemist, founder and president of the Weizmann Institute, later became the first President of the State of Israel.

As Dr. Chaim Weizmann so astutely noted:

Miracles sometimes occur, but one has to work terribly hard for them.”

Let us all work “harder” to bring this exciting collaborative project to fruition for Israel and South Africa.

 

 

 

 

headshot1 (1).jpgBenji Shulman, Executive Director  South Africa Israel Forum, is from Johannesburg, South Africa. He has a master’s degree in Geography and has worked in a range of fields in the Jewish community including education, advocacy, environment and outreach. He loves radio and has a hosted numerous shows on 101.9 ChaiFm in the last decade.

 

Terri Levin

Terri Levin, Media Liaison Officer of the South African Zionist Federation

 

 

Double Outrage

Defying logic, Palestinian woman murdered by her family in “Honour Killing” and US Congresswoman Tlaib blames Israel

By David E. Kaplan

If the tried and tested explanation for global calamities was to blame the Jews than today it is to blame Israel.

Where once Jews were blamed for the plague that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages – the Black Death – now this week, the ‘disease’ of “Honour Killings” prevalent in Palestinian society is blamed on Israel by none other than Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

image003 (80)
Tweeting Tlaib. US congresswoman Rashida Tlaib falsely accuses Israel in antisemitic tweets. (Photograph: Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Yes, there is outrage!

There was anger on the Arab street  as well as on social media, as reported in Egyptian Streets of “massive outrage among activists and social media users across the Middle East and North Africa.”

There should also be OUTRAGE as why Congresswoman Tlaib should blame the Jewish state for a malady prevalent in some regions of the Muslim world.

The accusation against Jews for the Black Plague resulted in persecution and massacres; words have consequences, so where will Rashida Tlaib’s false accusations lead?

image004 (73)
‘Cry Freedom’ From Men. Palestinian ‘honour killing’ sparks outrage, calling for women’s protection.

What are the facts?

Twenty-one-year-old, Israa Ghrayeb, “a makeup artist from Bethlehem,” reported the Egyptian Streets website, “died in a coma due to head trauma, in what activists and sources close to the victim are saying was a brutal honour killing. The culprits are believed to be her father and brothers.”

It all began when Ghrayeb went to meet a potential suitor in a public place and posted a video of the outing on her Instagram page.

She was in love and  was happy to show the world.

Her family did not share her happiness.

According to a friend of the victim’s, Ghrayeb’s mother was fully aware of the meeting and the suitor’s sister was also in attendance. The report added that Ghrayeb’s cousin then showed the video to the victim’s father and brothers, who allegedly urged them “to act to prevent scandal and accusing Israa of dishonouring herself and bringing shame to the family by being seen in the company of a man outside the bonds of marriage.”

Attempting to escape the violence from her family, Israa apparently fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and  according to media reports, broke her spine. The family says she jumped after being “possessed by demons.”

In the hospital, Israa posted on social media a photograph of herself showing her injuries and bravely writing:

 “I’m strong, and I have the will to live — if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday. Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

Those ‘oppressing” and “hurting” her were her family, not Israelis, Congresswoman Tlaib!

Sadly, those were the last brave words to the outside world  of a young woman, whose family had murder on its mind!

Incensed by this latest posting from the hospital, Israa’s brother, along with other male relatives, entered her ward and brutally beat to death.

According to reports, Ghrayeb’s family claimed that they are not responsible for her death, and that their daughter “died of a heart attack.”

The only thing accurate in this statement was that she did die of an “attack” but not of the heart but the male hands of her family.

Message On Instagram

Double Outrage2
Nawal Al Ramahi@nawal_ramahi – Indeed, it is a tragedy! Israa experienced the most heinous forms of abuse. Honour killing will never be justifiable. May she Rest In Peace and justice be served. #WeAreIsraa

Enter The Dragon

Then comes along Congresswoman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) who has called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and expressed support for BDS – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel  by  first delegitimizing and dehumanizing the Jewish state.

One of two Muslim women to be elected to Congress,  Tlaib released a statement that while decrying the phenomenon of “honour” killings, she attached a link to her tweet for an article that blames “Israeli occupation” for such killings.

The article was posted on a Palestinian site called BabyFist designed to start a conversation about gender oppression.

Yet again, the contriving congresswoman found a reason to condemn Israel; this time linking the Jewish state to a serious problem within Palestinian society that has nothing to do with Israel.

Before tweeting her false accusations, the Congresswoman could have engaged with  Palestinian documentary filmmaker, Imtiaz al-Maghrabi, who told Germany’s public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle that “Any Palestinian woman could be a victim of such a crime.”

In March, Al-Maghrabi – who is currently making a film about honour killings – was recognized for her work by the Arab Women’s Media Center in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

While the Palestinian territories have modernised laws dealing with honour killings, al-Maghrabi says that, in reality, the effect of these laws is limited:

Palestinian society is influenced by custom, tradition, and religion. These all bear more weight than the law, and crimes relating to a violation of honour are often only lightly punished.”

Sociologist Iyad Barghouthi from the Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies also expressed to  Deutsche Welle  that the practice of honour killings is so imbedded in tradition that it is likely to continue. He believes that’s because “from a male perspective — the concept of honour has no relation to values such as morality, integrity or success,” it is solely defined “by the reputation of the female family members. A man is willing to take violent action against a woman if she does not meet his expectations.”

According to Palestinian NGO, the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC):

– 23 Palestinian women and girls were killed in 2016

– 28 in 2017

– 23 cases  in 2018

The General Director of WCLAC, Randa Siniora explained the difficulty in categorizing “femicides” or death as gender-based violence, as many of the killings were constantly “under investigation” or were classified as a “suicide”.

“This year there are 18 cases of unknown reasons for death, suicidal cases and femicide, with 14 in the West Bank and eight in Gaza. Six are confirmed femicide in the West Bank, the others are under investigation,” Siniora told Mondoweiss, a news website covering American foreign policy in the Middle East.

image007 (38)
Appeal for Family Protection From The Family. Palestinian women protesting against gender-based violence after the killing of Israa Ghrayeb by her family in Bethlehem. (Photo: Miriam Deprez)

 

Acceptable Murder

Contributing to the problem, several Palestinian laws tend to grant leniency to men convicted of killing female relatives, in what is widely referred to as “honour killings”. Many are inherited Jordanian regulations that pre-date the Six Day War of 1967 when Israel took over the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.

In the past, perpetrators of “honour killings” received reduced sentences under Article 98 and 99 of the Palestinian Penal code, which “grants judges the ability to dramatically reduce sentences,” if “extenuating circumstances” could be proven.

In 2014, a UN human rights report written by Palestinian judge Ahmad al-Ashqar, revealed that the present “legislation in place, contributes, to a large extent, to building a social awareness that killing under the pretext of honour is acceptable.”

Outrageous

There is a problem when young women like 21-year-old Israa  Ghrayeb are murdered by family members, because they have fallen in love.

That there was OUTRAGE is a good sign.

That a US Congresswoman should blame Israel is a bad sign.

Rashida Tlaib’s conduct on this issue is naked antisemitism.

Where’s the outrage?

 

* Title picture: Future Crushed. Israa Ghrayeb relaxed at a café. (Photo: Twitter)

The Israel Brief- 02-05 September 2019

 

The Israel Brief – 02 September 2019 – Update on Israel’s exchange of fire with Hizbollah. Netanyahu vows to annex Jewish settlements in West Bank. Honduras opens trade office in Jerusalem.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 03 September 2019 – Gantz says referendum before and withdrawal from territory. Was Israa Gharebs death an honour killing? Iran refuses to co-operate with UN inspectors.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 04 September 2019 – IDF reveals Hizbollah factory. Israel dispatched humanitarian aid. Greenblatt asks UN to pressure Hamas on Israeli captives.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 05 September 2019 – Bibi meets BoJo. Israeli diplomats cast their vote. Remembering the Munich massacre. 

The Curious Case of Israel’s Invisible Election

By Gidon Ben-Zvi

With the great election redo of 2019 less than two weeks away, Israelis across the political spectrum are meeting up in living rooms, pubs and coffee shops around the country to discuss the great issues of the day…not.

The political fatigue is palpable right about now: Picture an old basset hound passed out on the front porch, trying to escape the summer heat. Sure, the major media outlets continue to breathlessly report on corruption allegations and the latest attempted mergers and acquisitions of splinter parties, whose potential votes could prove to be the difference between a center-left or right-wing government. But Israelis by and large have tuned out of the incessant focus on labyrinthine negotiations, political jockeying and mudslinging.

image003 (79)
Walk On By. Who’s who at the political zoo.

Their concerns are more immediate. Parents are busy getting their kids back into the school year swing, young men and women are gearing up for their university studies and those who’ve recently returned from vacation are just now trying to figure out how on earth to pay off that 7-day luxury trip to Greece. Israelis, once the most politically engaged citizens of any democracy on the planet, have settled into a low-grade stupor just days before a national election.

What’s this epidemic of ennui all about? Some of it can be traced to that point in Israel’s history when personalities began to trump platforms. Local journalists have only fueled this Gossip Girl approach to covering politics. As a result, there are no great issues, only rumors, allegations, spin and endless innuendo. It’s not surprising that people would rather spend their well-earned Saturday afternoons at the beautiful Beit Yanai Beach not discussing politics with their family and friends.

image005 (69)
Swing Voters. Israeli beaches are expected to be packed this coming election.

The problem is that such apathy is anathema to the long-term wellbeing of any democracy. What truly legitimizes any form of representative government isn’t its regulations, laws, Constitution or Declaration of Independence. These are but procedural mechanisms that will blow away like dust in the wind if people stop cherishing and fighting for the values that undergird free nations everywhere.

Democracies can’t long function on auto pilot. The very legitimacy of a representative government depends on a proactive public holding its leaders’ feet close to the fire. To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, a passionate and engaged citizenry, “…dreams of things that never were, and asks why not.” But detached, disinterested citizens accept the smallness of its countries’ leaders and settle for small victories: holding on to a job, making the monthly rent, getting through an entire summer without a call from the bank.

image006 (46)
Ballot Box To Beach. Having cast their votes, Israelis enjoy themselves at the beach during Israel’s parliamentary election day, in Tel Aviv, Israel April 9, 2019. (REUTERS/Corinna Kern, TEL AVIV)

 

When the national discussion isn’t about Israel’s security, economy or place among the family of nations, playing matkot or backgammon is surely a more productive way to spend one’s time. But viable democracies demand much of their citizens. Escaping these responsibilities will only prolong and deepen Israelis’ crisis of confidence in the country they so love.

 

image004 (72).jpg

 

 

 

image007 (33).jpgGidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose  work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).

A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

A Woman’s Right

By Rolene marks

Israa Ghrayeb was 21 years old.  Like most millennials, Israa was social media “obsessed” (to use the vernacular) but little did she know that the platforms so many of us take for granted every day to share the titbits of our lives that are envy inducing to our online communities, would lead to her death.

Israa’s only crime was that she dared meet a young Arab man in a restaurant and document it by sharing it to social media platform, Instagram.  Millions of people do this every day and while this meeting was innocent enough, it inspired the rage of the male members of her family to severely beat her. Israa did not meet a stranger that she did not know, she met the man she was intending to marry.

When the family found out, Ghrayeb’s brother, Ihab, allegedly beat and tortured her in their family home.

Trying to escape the violent blows inflicted on her, Israa then fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and was reported to have broken her spine.

Her brother, who is a Canadian resident, was apparently incensed by the video – saying it “dishonoured” the family by presenting herself with her husband-to-be ahead of the actual wedding, according to local media.  Her father had allegedly ordered her brother to beat her after family members witnessed the footage online.

After being admitted to hospital following the initial attack, Ghrayeb said she would not be able to work for the next two months as she waited for a spinal cord operation in a post on her Instagram account.

“I’m strong and I have the will to live – if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday,” she said. “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

After posting this message, her brother, along with other male relatives, reportedly brutally beat her in the hospital. Footage surfaced on social media of her screaming and begging for her life during the attack.

Israa succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Israa Ghrayeb became the latest horrific statistic in an “honour killing”.

Palestinians took to the street to protest Israa’s death and an end to honour killings.

Israa’s death is not isolated.

image002 (71)
#WeAreIsraa. Outrage follows 21-year-old Palestinian woman Israa Ghrayeb murdered by family members in suspected ‘Honour Killing’.

Honour killings are not a new phenomenon.  In fact, this heinous occurrence has been practiced from as early as Roman times and is prevalent today in North Africa and the Middle East but don’t think that western countries are exempt – incidents of honour killings have been reported in the UK, USA, Canada and others.

The term “honour killing” sounds like a really ridiculous paradox, after all there is absolutely no honour in killing anyone – how could there be? But the issue here isn’t really about honour but more about control over reproductive power. This being said it is not always sexual in nature or about controlling sexual behaviour but rather about fertility.

Say what?

Now I am scratching my head in confusion as much as you are but these horrendous events occur because in some communities that are patrilineal in nature, a woman’s right to govern her own reproductive freedom. In these societies, women are seen as reproductive factories not seductive sirens.

This makes this barbaric act a lot more complex than originally thought, but in most cases, honour killings occur because women in communities that adhere to strict religious doctrine are expected to toe the line and behave in accordance. In Pakistan for example, women’s right to life are conditional on their “obeying certain norms and traditions.”

image009 (29)
No More Violence. More women in Pakistan are demanding an end to gender-related violence.

Nighat Taufeeq of the Women’s Resource Center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.”

Honour killings are seen as less serious than murder. Sounds like a contradiction but women are being killed for “infractions” ranging from dressing more western to adulterous affairs. This is becoming more and more common, especially in societies that adopt Islamic sharia law even though in centuries past, they have occurred in ancient Rome or medieval times. In some communities, where women are gaining economic power and adopting more customs, there are men that feel that they have to act out in some way, usually violent, to regain some control.

Women who have been raped are also seen as bringing “disgrace” to their families and it is shattering that they become victimized twice over. Should pregnancy result from this, the consequences are catastrophic.

Homosexuality is also seen as legitimate grounds for killing. The United Nations and other NGO’s are alarmed by this phenomenon and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees state that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing.”

image008 (35)
Horror Not Honour. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more.

So surely divorce or a court injunction against possible perpetrators would be the solution?

Sadly, this is usually a trigger for violence against women and for many; the feeling is that hope is lost.

What can be done, if anything, to stop honour killings or as they are called in some countries “crime of passion”?

The first step would be to be to really understand the “honour code” and learn from the lessons in history. For some cultures this practice is repugnant but in others it is acceptable “code”. One solution that has been discussed is “naming and shaming”. Another possibility is in communities where honour killings are seen as part of religious doctrine, to prove that this is not the correct interpretation of the Quran.

The battle to end honour killings is a long and arduous one but necessary. Perhaps the starting point is learning to respect life – not end it. That is the true shame and dishonor. The right to live in dignity and safety is a woman’s right.

 

 

Cow’working to Co-working

Digital Generation makes its MOO’ve to kibbutz

By David. E. Kaplan

I can just hear my late father reverting to Yiddish with “Voz iz dos?” on hearing about “co-working”. As a steel industrialist he knew all about a factory floor.

The actual use of the word “co-working” in relation to a shared office environment was first coined by Brad Neuberg in 2005. He was an intrepid entrepreneur with big dreams who created the first co-working space in San Francisco.

It was called the “San Francisco Co-working Space” and was open only two days a week – Mondays and Tuesdays – but sat empty for the first month as nobody had ever heard of a “co-working space” before.

Today, “Co-working Spaces” are the new normal with some 2.2 million people sharing office spaces worldwide.  Co-working spaces have grown at an astounding rate of 200% over the past five years, with the number of co-working members estimated to rise to over 5 million by 2022 thanks to the huge increase in jobs offering remote working.

image003 (77)
Bring To The Table. A far cry from downtown New York, London, Sydney or Johannesburg but the work at this rustic table is no less – if not more – productive. Courtesy of Gather

 

Freelancers, contractors and younger companies are choosing co-working spaces over home offices and coffee shops for a range of reasons, including the productive atmosphere, affordable rates, excellent software and good networking opportunities.

Israelis love it and it’s available – especially in the greater metropolitan Tel Aviv – all across the city.

Joining this trend but with the added gain  of bringing VALUES  to “a generation of instant gratification” is one of the founding enterprising institutions of the state  – the KIBBUTZ.

image005 (68)
Point Of View. Situated on a beautiful mountaintop in the Western Galilee and boasting breathtaking views, Kibbutz Tuval was established in 1981 by ideological groups of young people from South Africa, Britain and Israel.

Field Of Dreams

It should come as little surprise.  Ideologically and conceptually there are similarities between the kibbutz – a co-operative Israeli farming community – and co-working in so far as shared working space in a collective and congenial atmosphere.

Both aspire to the common goal of increased productivity.

The Kibbutz was traditionally based on agriculture and although many of them have in recent years privatized and branched out to include industrial and high-tech enterprises, they still maintain an enviable community atmosphere hardly found elsewhere.

It is little wonder that Israel’s city dwellers flock to kibbutzim guest houses for weekend retreats and increasingly, young families from urban environments are taking advantage of kibbutzim that have opened up their land for private dwellings. These young couples with kids are opting to live in the countryside and take advantage of the kibbutz’s excellent communal services.

image002 (69)
Office Break. Gather participants can spend their lunch hour enjoying the natural surroundings of a kibbutz. Photo by Almog Gurevich

Come Gather ’round

Enter Gather – a new entrepreneurial project that aims to attract “remote workers” to Israel’s kibbutz communities.

A remote worker is someone who works outside of a traditional office. A company might have a team that is a mix both those that work on and off site.

In an interview with NoCamels.com,  a news website focusing on Israeli innovation in technology, 30-year-old entrepreneur Omer Har-Shai, co-founder of Gather explains that while “the world has changed,” there’s a trend today “to be part of a community, to belong, and to find meaning,” and that “the idea behind the kibbutz is all the more relevant again.”

Har-Shai came up with the idea to tap into the unique potential of Israel’s kibbutz structure– with its onsite accommodation, mess hall, lush surroundings, community atmosphere, and WiFi – and create a connection with today’s digital generation.

Gather has put out a call for professionals from across the globe to come and stay, work remotely, and experience kibbutz life for a one-month period.

“Over 100 people – graphic designers, writers, freelancers, programmers, designers, bloggers, entrepreneurs and even full-time employees – have written to us so far,” says Har-Shai. “They are from all over the world: Canada, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, different European countries.”

As a former South African, whose first enriching experience of Israel in the early 1970s was volunteering on a kibbutz – inspired by the ideology of the labour Zionist youth movement  ‘Habonim’ –  I look with keen interests if  professionals in South Africans will  be attracted to the project.

While once kibbutz communities across Israel attracted tens of thousands of volunteers from abroad, today only a trickle of 20-somethings still come to volunteer and experience the uniquely Israeli communal living style.

Har-Shai says he hopes Gather will revive that legendary kibbutz experience of the 1970s with the adaptations catering to the digital millennial generation.

While still enticed to the uniquely communal agricultural experience of a kibbutz, Har-Shai hopes that Gather will attract new participants “toting laptops and drones instead of shovels and hoes.”

Back To Basics

“The kibbutz experience is still a brand name,” says Har-Shai. “Kibbutzim have gone through economic and social transformations during the past four decades, but the unique atmosphere, scenic surroundings, and communal facilities still exist today. So, there’s really no need to reinvent the wheel, just make the most out of these wonderful communities that already exist.”

There are just over 270 kibbutzim peppered around Israel. In December 2019, Gather will launch its first cohort of up to 25 international professionals in a month-long programme on Kibbutz Kfar Blum, in the Upper Galilee’s Hula Valley.

image004 (71)
Dream Office. Gather participants could work at Bluma Café on the grounds of Kibbutz Kfar Blum. Photo by Almog Gurevich

This will be followed a month later when a second group of some 25 participants will move into guesthouse accommodations at Kibbutz Tuval, in the Galilee on a mountaintop overlooking the town of Karmiel.

That these two kibbutzim were selected resonates with the writer as both attracted over the years, members of the Habonim youth movement from South Africa. They were a hardy and ideologically passionate lot like the late Rona Baram (née Moss-Morris from Durban) who arrived in Palestine from South Africa in the mid-1940s as a law student and trained nurse. Rona had been a member of Habonim in Durban, and “by the time I was 15,” she told the writer in 2005 on the 75th anniversary of Habonim South Africa celebrated on Kibbutz Yizreel, “I was determined to make Aliyah and bear a child in the Land of Israel whose mother tongue would be Hebrew.”

image009 (4)
Muddy Waters. The mud on Kibbutz Kfar Blum which Habonim member Rona Moss-Morris from Durban, South Africa describes on arriving in 1946.

Making her way to Kibbutz Kfar Blum that had been established in 1943  by her Habonim comrades, Rona recalled how “we rode in the back of a lorry carrying rocks for the approach road. I was lucky I came with my gumboots because the place was underwater, and the mud came to our knees. There were only a few buildings on the kibbutz and two families had to share a room.”

image008 (34)
Take The Plunge. Sweating at your computer, feel free to dive in at the pool at Kfar Blum.

Asking how she felt about living in these conditions, Rona answered with a shrug:

We came to build a country. No one promised us anything. We shared everything. Material things just didn’t mean anything to us then.”

Today it’s a different world where “material things” are paramount but nevertheless, the atmospherics of that bygone lifestyle and its concomitant values still have appeal and are at the core of today’s kibbutz revival.

“People want to travel, see new cultures, but they don’t necessarily want to quit their jobs and leave everything behind,” says Har-Shai. “Today, it is very easy to keep your job and see other places. There are digital nomads, freelancers, and remote workers who have the flexibility to work from anywhere. Even people who don’t usually work remotely can ask for a month to try working from another place.”

While the Gather project is geared to the 25-35 age group, “interest has also come from GAP year college-age students and people in their 50s,” says Har-Shai. “It’s not about age or being from a specific country. We’re looking for people who are open-minded and curious, people who are looking for this kind of experience.”

Here’s The Deal

It’s the vibe but without the socialism. While foreigners used to volunteer in return for accommodation and board, with Gather, participants pay a fee that covers accommodation and shared office space; daily lunch in the kibbutz Hadar Ochel (Dining room); access to kibbutz facilities, often including a swimming pool or tennis courts. Organised activities may include hiking, yoga, lectures and weekend trips to places including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Har-Shai reminds that participants in Gather’s kibbutz experience are not on vacation but to pursue their work with increased vigor in a highly motivated milieu. “They can sublet their apartments and come live in this community for a month. I think people will be more productive on the kibbutz. There is no traffic, no errands, you live on-site and walk three minutes to the office.”

In support of the  assertion of “being more productive”, studies out of North America and Europe have revealed that remote work improves productivity.

Over and above impressive levels of productivity of people who work from home, a recent two-year study by Stanford University concluded that people who worked remotely were less likely to leave the company for other employment. The study found there was an overall 50% decrease in attrition among home-based workers.

Remote.co – a resource for companies – reports that the number of companies with a remote workforce is growing all the time. In 2019, according to Remote.co, 66% of companies allow remote work and 16% are fully remote.

Har-Shai himself, is proudly, “office-less”.

image013 (12)
Rush Hour. Your office is a 3 minute scenic walk away on Kibbutz Tuval.

 Digital Nomads

So, how did this idea dawn upon Har-Shai?

Usually working out of a café in Tel Aviv, it was after working in Nitzana, a remote desert community  and youth educational village  in southern Israel near the Egyptian border, that “I decided to create a company that would help others work remotely and enjoy a truly Israeli experience at the same time.”

image012 (25)
Shared Space. Co-working offices in Tel Aviv.

He found the combination of doing physical work on the settlement in the morning “and then on my laptop in the afternoon proved incredibly inspirational and productive.”

He believes that this environment increases productivity because participants will be living “a more balanced life, perhaps starting their day by working in the fields a few hours and eating breakfast in the main mess hall,” before pursuing their professional work.

Searching for the right kibbutzim to meet the needs of remote workers’ needs and finetuning it to a truly revived kibbutz experience for foreign professionals took two years.

Har-shai, who has experience in marketing, sales and business development, shopped around his proposal to 40 kibbutzim across Israel.

image001 (79)
Living The Dream. Gather co-founder Omer Har-shai on Kibbutz Tuval. Photo by Almog Gurevich

Almost all were open to the idea, however, “the two we’ve partnered with to start are both green and beautiful, but different from one another. Kibbutz Tuval is remote and quiet, while Kibbutz Kfar Blum is more traditional with a supermarket and a pub.”

Kfar Blum’s location near the Jordan River at the foot of Mount Hermon has made it a center for outdoor recreational activities including walkinghikingkayakingrafting and bird watching.

As well as the amazing natural landscape that surrounds kibbutz Tuval, heaving with hiking trails, wildlife, and unlimited outdoor pursuits, it is well located for exploring the Western and Upper Galilee regions, within 40 minutes’ drive of Akko, Safed, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, as well as countless historic and religious sites.

image007 (37)
Stay Cool. Part of the activities for Gather participants is kayaking on the Jordan River.

“We’ll help each person find the kibbutz that is right for them,” says Har-Shai.

A third Gather location is planned in the Arava, the northeast strip of the Negev desert in the south of the country.

Har-Shai says, “We’re a private startup with no political agenda. I think that when people are living here for a month, they will see the real Israel. A diverse country, with different people; a beautiful country. It’s an interesting country. We’re offering a new approach for the age of Wi-Fi and remote work – living and volunteering on a kibbutz while keeping your day job.”

And while that “day job” feeds our addiction of our beloved technical appliances of computer and cellphone, seeing a tractor routinely pass by on the way to the fields is an enrichening reminder on the core earthy values of life.

 

 

*​Should you want to spend a month with a group of inspiring professionals from around the world, as you live and work remotely on a beautiful Kibbutz in Israel visit https://www.gatheround.co/ to learn more.