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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Miriam Berkowitz

Israel through a kaleidoscope of lenses

Updated: Apr 24

At a time when people are increasingly polarized, read only news that agrees with their points of view, and often socialize, worship and learn with others who share their outlook, Kaleidoscope offers a refreshing opportunity to engage with speakers and participants from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Exclusive briefings, lively debates and unique site visits and experiences shed light on how October 7 happened, its political and societal ramifications, and what the future may hold.

Kaleidoscope was created by Stephen Pincus, one of Canada’s leading business lawyers, who saw a need for “an enriched Israel engagement program that challenges the certainties spawning polarization and populism.”

This is the fifth Kaleidoscope program since 2015 and several participants keep returning.  One is Cal Goldman, Canada’s former Commissioner of Competition who said that of his countless Israel trips “over 50 years, Kaleidoscope’s well-planned sessions are unique in their consistent high level analytical content and exceptionally interesting and impactful discussions.”


What leads people to join a program like Kaleidoscope during a time of war?

Julie Markle, marketing executive in Toronto, came to regain some hope – about the ability of Israelis to mend the torn fabric of unity and about Israel’s ability to coexist with her neighbours.

Others came to “make sense of things,” understand more about the war, the state of the kibbutzim and towns near Gaza, what is being done to free the hostages, and what the army and government envisage for the coming months.

Peter Joseph, business leader in New York and veteran leader of many Israel missions, commented: “Kaleidoscope is a very, very unusual experience which embraces the complexity of Israel in all its dimensions and doesn’t hold back. It really exposes participants to all voices without prejudice, without judgment, and with real sophistication, treating us as adults.”

The word “nuanced” came up again and again. Jews in and outside Israel are struggling within themselves to integrate their many different values and identities: Zionism, Jewish values, and - particularly for the younger generation – the balance between universalism and particularity.

They were eagerly seeking exposure to diverse, authentic viewpoints and were willing to be challenged, even if it was uncomfortable.

Stephen opened the program at Israel’s new National Library which he described as a “symbol of independent thought at a time when both independence and thought are under threat.”

Quoting Yehuda Amichai’s poem “From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring”, Stephen said: “the trauma of October 7 is profound and raw, and we’ve come to Israel to hug her at this awful time.  But just as Amichai suggests that both love and doubt are needed to unearth the fertile soil that will allow growth, we’re also here to wrestle with Israel, because Kaleidoscope’s premise is that Israel needs both our hugging and our wrestling.”


The Program

Participants were given a true kaleidoscope of perspectives, ranging from former Netanyahu Chief of Staff Eli Groner and settlement activist Ofir Dayan, to senior Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer and veteran diplomat Alon Pinkas, to Arab-Israeli activists Samah Salaime and Hiba Iselah.

They were briefed by military experts like IDF Commander Brig. General Bentzi Gruber and Lt. Colonel Yaron Buskila from the IDF Gaza Division and spoke individually over dinner with lone soldiers currently serving in Gaza.

They witnessed the devastation at Kibbutz Kfar Azza and met with survivors there, heard a    dramatic account of October 7 by Roy Valdman, Police Commander of Israel’s Southern District, and visited the Tekumah “car graveyard” and the Nova Festival Site, where youth leaders from Habonim South Africa who were part of the Kaleidoscope group led a moving memorial ceremony.

They were inspired by a visit to the headquarters of Achim Laneshek (Brothers and Sisters in Arms) whose leaders explained how this powerful grassroots organization pivoted in October from spearheading the protests against the current government’s judicial reform coup to driving the country’s civil society response to the war effort.

They listened to a candid conversation in the Latin Patriarchate between Cardinal, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa and his friend Rabbi David Rosen, a leading figure in interfaith dialogue.


From left: Daniel Hasson, Rabbi David Rosen, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa and Stephen Pincus


They discussed judicial reform and the ICJ proceedings with legal luminaries like Elyakim Rubinstein and Suzie Navot and heard from  “Tech Barometer” Alan Feld, Innovation Authority CEO Dror Bin, former Bank of Israel head Karnit Flug, TASE Chair Eugene Kandel, and Arab-Israeli business leader and former Chair of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj-Yehia.

The group enjoyed an exclusive performance by internationally renowned entertainer-educators Robbie Gringras and Adam Mader of their brand new show ‘Come Sit With Me’ - presenting well known Israeli songs whose meaning has changed forever in the wake of the war, laced with anecdotes and observations about a country transformed.


Highlights

Participants especially appreciated a panel at the ANU Museum featuring four top film directors who shared riveting clips from the documentaries they are each currently making on different aspects of October 7.  The conversation was moderated by celebrated film-maker and Kaleidoscope veteran Steven Silver, who also interviewed leading psychoanalysts Merav Roth and Mira Erlich-Ginor as first responders in treating October 7 trauma victims.

Building shared society was an ongoing theme.  Kaleidoscope explored the communities of West and East Jerusalem in a tapestry of activities expertly curated by Kaleidoscope partner Daniel Hasson, head of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC).  The group learned first-hand how JICC empowers Jerusalemites from all walks of life to build a more equitable, safe and healthy city. Tour guide Itay Gat told the group about the geopolitical background of Mt. Zion, and JICC's Tami Lavie Nissim described her work with the diverse residents.

In Tel Aviv the group met with 60 Arab and Jewish youth from the “Galilee Dreamers” coexistence program founded by Kaleidoscope veteran Dr. Desmond Kaplan of Baltimore, who led an interactive program for the 120 people present.


The group with "Galilee Dreamers" coexistence project participants


Takeaway messages

The program had a transformative impact on participants. Sara Super, a 30 year old Chief of Staff at Google in Los Angeles found “Kaleidoscope really challenging in the best possible way. It’s the perfect program for anyone willing to be uncomfortable and in that discomfort to find depth and meaning and connection, and somehow to feel as productive as is possible right now.”  She said the program exposed her to “what feels like the entire representation of Israeli society, from far left to far right, settlers, Palestinians, activists, journalists, judges, generals. I feel even closer to Israel than before - I don’t know if I’m quite ready to say that I feel hopeful, but I definitely feel inspired by this trip.”

One returning Kaleidoscoper, Wachtell Lipton partner Trevor Norwitz said he had been “worried because this trip was in the shadow of October 7, but the program was exciting, introspective, very moving, very emotional at times, really a wonderful trip - a true Kaleidoscope of perspectives, most extremely insightful and eloquent, and it was a pleasure to be able to engage with them.  Very action-packed and intense, but it’s worth it!”

Clara Rubinstein, a marketing executive from Toronto, called Kaleidoscope “an amazing experience that went way beyond what we expected. The diversity of subject matter and caliber of speakers was extraordinary. At such a difficult time I couldn’t think of a better way of coming to Israel than with Kaleidoscope.”

Lula Pencharz, a Wits University student from Johannesburg and the head of Habonim South Africa, called the program “… absolutely mind-blowing.  An extremely difficult week that tested me in so many ways. It was very emotional to visit the sites attacked on October 7 and then come back and have all these amazing discussions and challenge each other, in this group of strangers with huge age differences. I’m leaving here feeling very hopeful, with love for Israel and for the group.”

Amidst all the serious emotion there was plenty of humour.  One participant, David Lepofsky, who has been fully blind since 1978 and is widely regarded as one of Canada’s leading disability rights advocates, broke the ice at many tense moments, often waving his white cane high in the air to catch the attention of a speaker.  Following the program he wrote to Stephen:   “My mind is still racing, trying to absorb and integrate all I heard in the transformative tour you masterminded. Of my 21 trips to Israel, this in many ways will be the most memorable. A huge thank you for all the hard work in making it happen, and for being so welcoming to my taking part in it. Sign me up now for the next one, whenever it is!”


Further information on Kaleidoscope can be found at


Habonim youth leading a memorial ceremony at the Nova Festival site

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