Drawing Inspiration From Israel's Innovators

Dear Friends,

If I had to choose one word to summarize the incredible week that the Board of Trustees and senior leadership of The Russell Berrie Foundation spent in Israel earlier this fall, it would have to be “innovation.”

Over the course of a whirlwind five-day retreat, we learned about the myriad ways that organizations and leaders we’ve invested in are improving Israel’s society, economy and culture by identifying critical challenges, thinking about them creatively and developing innovative solutions to effect lasting change.

A few highlights:

  • We spent an afternoon with a team from the JDC ELKA Institute for Leadership and Governance, a “think and do” tank engaged in remarkable work bringing together leaders of Israel’s national and local governments, civil society and business communities to achieve measurable, sustainable social impact. JDC ELKA is currently working with the Ministry of Interior and a team of experts to formulate recommendations for implementing a regional governance structure for Israel. Countries around the world are exploring regionalism to improve quality of life, on the theory that multiple local jurisdictions can gain scale on shared issues such as economic development by joining forces at the regional level.

  • We participated in an eye-opening, mentality-shifting experiential session with Dr. Eran Halperin, founder of the aChord Center, an institute committed to “social psychology for social change.” Dr. Halperin, an acclaimed psychology professor at Hebrew University, established aChord to bridge the gap between the growing body of research-based knowledge about intergroup relations, and work being done by organizations seeking to reduce the tension, prejudice and negative emotions that divide members of Israel’s distinct populations.

  • We strengthened our understanding of Jerusalem’s flourishing tech ecosystem and dynamic design community, and how the interplay between the two is driving a vision for inclusive growth, during a deep dive curated by our partners at Start-Up Nation Central. We heard from industry stakeholders, leaders of the “tech meets design” movement at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and the Jerusalem-based tech entrepreneurs shaping the city’s future.

  • We heard TED-style talks from several Jerusalem Model Fellows, social entrepreneurs and activists from diverse communities brought together by the Leichtag Foundation in a program that we are pleased to support. Jerusalem Model Fellows share a strong commitment to their individual work, as well as to the shared work of building a better future for all of Jerusalem’s diverse inhabitants.

These experiences reinforced my optimism in the change-makers we’ve invested in, who are tackling the country’s most challenging problems with innovative solutions that are gaining real traction. They also reinforced my appreciation for our Israel team and for our Board, which understood that a strong on-the-ground presence was crucial to identifying and effectively supporting the right partners.

As we usher in the year 5780, I’m reminded of a comment made by the extraordinary teacher Dr. Micah Goodman, who invited our delegation to participate in hevruta-style partnered learning at Ein Prat, the pluralistic Beit Midrash for young adults that he directs. While most religions canonize answers, Micah noted, Judaism canonizes questions. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and staff of The Russell Berrie Foundation, I would like to wish all of you a happy, healthy new year in which we sharpen our ability to ask the right questions. If we do so, I think we’ll come up with some pretty innovative answers.

Shana tova,

Ruth Salzman