Stories

  • Young American Social Justice Pioneers make their Mark in Israel

    06 April 2011

    Daniel Estrin, a 23-year-old Brandeis University graduate spending the year in Israel, hosts an English language show on radio All for Peace. Jim Levine, a Harvard economics graduate, lobbies visiting American Jewish leaders to take a strong stand against human trafficking in Israel. Seattle native Yael Maizel, 25, in addition to her community organizing work in Arab neighborhoods in Haifa, is deeply affected by a SHATIL Arab-Jewish dialogue group she participates in.

    These three young people are this year's NIF-SHATIL Social Justice Fellows, highly motivated U.S. college grads spending a year learning about and contributing their talents to social change and democracy efforts in Israel. (Estrin is a Nomi Fein Fellow, Levine is a Richard Israel Fellow and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston sponsors Maizel's fellowship.)

    The three have so far managed to be very productive. To help his lobbying efforts with Jewish leaders and the Knesset for Atzum – Justice Works, Levine prepared a fact sheet called "Sex Slavery in Israel" with alarming statistics that document Israel's role in sex slave trade. It includes a description of nude auctions where 3-5,000 sex slaves currently in Israel are sold to pimps for up to $10,000 each. (More info at www.TFHT.org)

    Says Levine, "It's getting near Pesach now and it's incredibly ironic to think that the Jews left Egypt for freedom in Israel and these women are brought to Egypt from the former Soviet Union and then sold into slavery in Israel. Human trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon, but given our own history of slavery and our commitment to care for the stranger, Israel has a special responsibility to abolish this evil and set an example for the world."

    "Unfortunately, the U.S. State Department in 2006 ranked Israel very low on the trafficking issue, and the UN lists Israel as one of the top 10 destinations for trafficked women."

    During his junior year at Be'ersheva University, Daniel Estrin, who studied journalism, had been turned off by the Israeli media's role in fueling the Arab-Israeli conflict. "I wanted to use the media as a tool for improved communication and understanding," he says. By fate, a colleague left at the radio station where he was placed so Estrin now hosts a show on ordinary people making a difference, including Israeli and Jordanian scientists joining forces to prevent erosion of the Dead Sea and two women professors from Tel Aviv and Bethlehem universities tackling hereditary deafness due to inbreeding in Palestinian families.

    "There are amazing co-existence projects that have small successes every day," says Estrin. "The problem is people don't know about them."

    When Yael Maizel, who is interning at long-time NIF grantee Yedid, organized a Health Rights Day to kick off organizing efforts in two Arab neighborhoods in Haifa, Yedid's health van attracted a record 100 people. She also helped design a survey to map resources in the area. Maizel says her participation in a new SHATIL Arab-Jewish dialogue group in Haifa has been especially moving. "The powerful stories told have shown me that people are willing to open up and share their pain. Once you hear stories like these, it's hard not to connect."

    The interns' passion has been tempered with reality. Says Estrin: "We all came with dreams and lofty goals to change the world and we've learned social change is a slow process. At the same time, because Israel is so small, there's a sense that what you're doing makes an impact."

    “We are grateful to the program’s funders for their belief in sending people like us, who are really interested in this area, to gain hands-on experience in Israel. We’re all interested in continuing in this field.” Estrin plans to stay on in Israel after his internship. Adds Maizel: “It’s been a great learning experience.”