2023 Hanukkah Spotlight: Libby Lenkinski, Vice President of Public Engagement, New Israel Fund

I first set foot at Camp Shomria at age 10 in 1988. It was love at first site, from the pick-up in a random plaza in the suburbs of Philadelphia when I saw a red-head teenager playing guitar in the back of a station-wagon with the trunk door open high, and through to getting out of the Philly van and seeing people running, no sprinting, up to one another and twirling each other around in embrace. I had never seen anything like that among kids before and I knew it was for me. That’s why I stayed at mosh through college and then joined the board when I came back from living in Israel for 10 years.

I was recently at a convening of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable and ahead of a session that I was part of leading, we noticed that the room was set up from the previous session. So naturally, I started moving tables and chairs alongside a lovely young man wearing a blue shirt with a red string in it. “Isn’t it wild how it’s always the youth movement bogrimol who are the ones moving tables at these things?” “How did you know I was a youth movement bogeret?” “Why else would you be moving the tables?” The shomer (or “boneh” as they sometimes say) was easily 20 years my junior and yet, his words rang true. 

Over these last two months, as a leader at New Israel Fund, I’ve been called to lead from my core. No management training could prepare anyone for what the days have felt like and how the realities on-the-ground have evolved. But I am, at my core, when titles and certificates and board seats and white house hanukkah party invites feel beyond irrelevant, I am a shomeret. And that means there are certain things I know:

    • When work needs to get done, someone has to do that work;
    • You can’t expect people to share with you if you don’t share with them;
    • We believe that our relationship with living Israel should be based on the concept of Ahvat Amim, solidarity of nations. 
    • We value all lives equally - those of Israelis and Jews, those of Palestinians and Gazans, those of Black and Brown Americans, those of women and LGBTQ+ people, and all  those others in the world. 
    • We have room in our hearts and our minds for complexity, for contradiction, and for non-binary thinking. 

All of these things guide my work every single day - during war and during relative peace. But perhaps most importantly, amidst all of the darkness and fog of war, while I could hardly leave my computer let alone my house, the first people I saw two weeks after October 7th, the people I ran to for those real deep hugs were my kvutza, Lahav. They came for dinner in the city and seeing their faces and feeling their warm embraces was a shamash that allowed me to keep lighting the candles of hope for a shared and peaceful future for all Israelis, all Palestinians and all those living in and out of the land. 

Happy Hannukah to all the Shamashimol out there in our beautiful, expanding, important, legacy movement. We have so much to be proud of - so many years of being lights in the darkness.

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