In light of the events currently taking place in Israel, it is appropriate that we ask our “four questions” this time of a long-time activist on social issues. Nir Braudo came to the San Francisco Bay Area a year ago to serve as a shaliach (emissary) in cooperation with the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) of San Francisco, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) Habonim Dror and Ameinu. He has recently been promoted and will direct WZO activity in North America from his San Francisco base at the BJE.
Before coming to America, Nir worked at BINA, the Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture. He helped establish the Secular Yeshiva, where students study Bible, Talmud, Israeli literature and Zionist history. The location of BINA in poverty stricken south Tel Aviv, close to the central bus station, lends itself to a full realization of the organization’s mission of Tikun Olam, allowing students to complement their study while volunteering in the local community.
1. Before you came to the United States to be a shaliach, you were a leader at BINA. How did you come to be associated with that organization?
After I completed my military service as an Infantry company commander, I decided that I wanted to go in the direction of education. Since my time as a leader in the Noar HaOved youth movement, I knew that I wanted to be involved in education. I responded to a newspaper ad from an organization looking for youth group facilitators and figured that would be a good place to begin. Very quickly I connected with BINA’s objectives, and together with Eran Baruch, the director, I set up the Community Social Justice Department, first in Southern Tel Aviv and later in other areas. In parallel, I received an academic degree in Talmud and Hebrew Culture and helped establish the Secular Yeshiva. I was also very active in strengthening BINA’s political arm, organizing demonstrations and activity related to our responsibility to create a just Israeli society.
2. What most surprised you when you came to San Francisco to work in the American Jewish Community
I was surprised by the deep connection and sense of commitment that American Jews have towards Israel. It is impressive to see the amount of resources the community invests in the relationship. The educational innovation I found at the Bureau of Jewish Education also surprised me. The effort by the Israeli community in the Palo Alto area to develop a new type of Israeli Jewish culture was a pleasant surprise.
3. There is quite of bit of emphasis on Tikun Olam among young Jewish adults in the United States. How do you see this through your Israeli lens?
There is a big difference between where I am coming from and how the concept is understood in the United States. In Israel, I believe there is still a sense of socialist values that come from the labor movement , as well as a social struggle to influence the government. On the other hand, in the United States these ideas are more connected to volunteerism and civil society. The scale factor, that in Israel it is easier to feel that you can have impact on a national level than in the U.S. comes into play here as well. In any case, it is an excellent direction for the Jewish world; my dream is to create common Tikun Olam opportunities for Israelis and Americans in which part of the time they will work together, sometimes in Israel and sometimes in the U.S. If someone is willing to contribute to this, I have lots of ideas and am ready to set up such a project.
4. You present yourself as a fourth generation Zionist of the progressive variety. What does it mean to you to be a Zionist in 2011?
That is a question which I could answer at length, but my short response is: Zionism today has three objectives that are connected to the original ideals of the Zionist movement. The continued development of Jewish culture, educating towards solidarity among world Jewry and responsibility for Israel, and Tikun Olam – bringing about a just society in the land of Israel.