February 19, 2020

Working Toward Peoplehood

Michal Ben Dov has one word on her mind: peoplehood. And she believes you should be thinking about it too. You feel like you’ve heard it before. Maybe your rabbi spoke about it from the pulpit, or your niece posted about it on Facebook or a Jewish organization used it to elicit feelings of connectedness in its most recent email solicitation. But what does it really mean? 

Ben Dov recently spoke with an American foundation looking to invest in agritech hubs as an engine for socioeconomic development in the Galilee. But how does an organization ignite the development of a new industry in an underserved region in order to expand employment opportunities, better social welfare and further develop infrastructure? How do they bring in national and local governmental stakeholders, other nongovernmental organizations, donors and professionals to make such large scale changes? 

Ben Dov said the way to do this is to shift the lens from the old model of a one-directional flow of resources and information to a closed loop of mutual cooperation among and benefit to Jews in Israel and around the world. And that word, again, is peoplehood.

“The whole notion of peoplehood is that we have so much to learn from each other. I want to learn from the American Jewish community about their creativity.”

As the director of Strategic Partnership and Board Relations for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Ben Dov works with lay leaders and funders on “providing better services for every Israeli by making the system work better.” 

With an optimism that is tempered with a true understanding of the complicated relationship between Diaspora Jewry and Israel, and the realities of the Israeli public sector, Ben Dov believes we can do better. “The whole notion of peoplehood is that we have so much to learn from each other,” she said. “I want to learn from the American Jewish community about their creativity — how they create ways to connect and belong to the Jewish community.”  

As an American and Israeli, spending her formative years in Berkeley, and Haifa, Ben Dov believes she is able to help us share our knowledge to maximize our potential. Instead of following the state-building model of world Jewry writing checks to support a struggling Israel, she believes we need to see one another as partners, with our own experiences, perspectives and expertise to share. “When we work together,” Ben Dov said, “we’re stronger and have much more assets and can make this a better world — not just a better Israel.”

Putting her vision into action, Ben Dov recently taught a course on peoplehood at her children’s school. “We need to be ‘or l’goyim’ (a light unto the nations),” Ben Dov said. “I don’t even like that term but we have the capacity to be that, if we build on this.”