LIFE Program
Social Change & Leadership Development
In Israel and India

Why Israel? Why India?

On the surface, it appears that there could not be two countries of greater contrast than Israel and India. In terms of population, Israel is one of the smallest nations of the world while India is the second most populous. Over 92% of Israelis live in urban centers, compared to just 30% of Indians.   Geographically, Israel encompasses just over 8000 square miles and India 1.27 million.  While the ancient Jewish people living the land of Israel were the progenitors of monotheism throughout the world and Judaism is anything but polytheistic, Hinduism – the traditional way of life of most Indians – encompasses a multitude of deities and worship traditions connected with each.

Yet, both Israel and India share some startling similarities. Both are very ancient civilizations that have made an enormous impact on humanity, even if that impact is sometimes overlooked by Western society. Both modern countries gained independence from Great Britain in the years immediately following World War II. While there are large gaps within both societies between rich and poor, both Israel and India are on the world’s economic center stage, led primary by high-technology. Both countries are rather homogenous in terms of religious make up with between 75% - 80% of the populations living as Jews or Hindus, respectively. Likewise, in both societies the largest minority group is Muslim, and Christians make up only about 2% of the overall population. India and Israel have increasingly close ties. India has emerged as a giant on the world stage in recent years. Israel now has half the Jewish population of the world and that percentage is growing. To understand and be connected to India is to have a stake in understanding how the world is evolving, now, in our lifetimes. To understand and be connected to Israel is to have a stake in understanding how the Jewish world is evolving, now, in our lifetimes.

Specifically of interest to LIFE participants, both India and Israel are home to what appear to be some of the globes most pressing issues of social justice. In India, poverty abounds and the basic necessities for life – such as drinking water and rudimentary education – appear to be out of reach for millions upon millions of Indians. In Israel too, six decades of operating in survival mode has created a situation in which too many of Israel’s citizens remain on the outskirts of society. In addition, in the absence of peace with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world, Israel is forced to invest a disproportionate amount of its resources and attention to addressing existential issues with which it continues to be challenged.  As a result, many issues that impact Jew and Arab alike go unaddressed.

From a learning point of view, being immersed in two cultures, in two ‘settings’, is not twice as valuable as one; it is infinitely more valuable. That is because it takes you out of your comfort zone, creates the potential for deeper self-awareness, points of comparison and analytical distance. It makes you aware of – and challenges - your assumptions about how society ‘should’ work - and can work. It enables – even forces – you to recognize your own values and cultural norms at play. It allows you in a deep way to become even more of a “self-made wo/man”

Common themes – which play themselves out in both similar and richly different ways in each country – are that as new countries, both are very much been in the “nation building” mode. That impacts the nature of the social sector, the experimental and dynamic sense about social change initiatives, the sense of urgency and of agency amongst leadership you’ll meet in each country. The relationship between government and civil society organizations are vastly different in each country. Similarly, organizational cultures and commonplace strategies are quite different. The difference of scale is so vast as to create qualitative differences. Additionally, both countries have incredible diverse and significant ethnic groups and minority groups. How to respect and preserve diversity while also creating a single nation and national identity is a shared challenge. How to bring ancient religious traditions into the contemporary world is another shared theme in each society.

And lastly, there’s a piece about both striking down roots in our Jewish national home AND becoming a global citizen. Too often we are told to be Jewish OR universally oriented. LIFE offers a profound way to experience, embrace and cherish those different kinds of belonging in one experience, in one identity, in one life. We don’t promise that it’s easy, but for us it is right, profound and rich. We believe it is the way of a better future.