Rebecca Bardach, Director of Resource Development & Strategy

Profile of REBECCA BARDACH, newest member of Hand in Hand's Israeli National staff. Two of her children attend the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem. 

Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education’s powerhouse new director of resource development and strategy, Rebecca Bardach, is an American who grew up in Berkeley, California. But she’s always had a keen sense of the larger world and the concept of "homeland."

She spent a sabbatical year in Israel with her family when she was six (her father is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley), and another year before college studying in Jerusalem with the Young Judaea Year Course program. 

“I grew up in a very Jewish and Zionist home,” said Rebecca, age 40, “with socialist-Jewish summer camps and a Jewish educational framework.”

Her parents helped start a Jewish Day School in Berkeley, called Tehiyah, and Rebecca grew as the school did. Being part of a pioneering educational experience was quite formative, she said, laying the groundwork for future involvement with Hand in Hand. 

 

Shortly after finishing her undergraduate degree at Columbia University in New York in 1995, Rebecca traveled abroad to work with Bosnian refugees, first in Hungary running a refugee-assistance program and then, after the war, in Bosnia.

Part of her work was helping people decide whether to resettle in Bosnia or to begin their lives anew in another country. “I totally supported their decisions,” she said, “whatever they felt was the right thing for themselves and their families. But I felt a special call toward helping people go back home and rebuild their country.”

 

All of her work with refugees, in fact, sprung from her “own sense of Zionism,” she said,  “from a strong sense that everyone has to contribute and do their part to rebuild the country.”

In 1998 Rebecca moved to Jerusalem—and except for a few years in New York earning a graduate degree and in Sri Lanka providing tsunami relief—has been there ever since.  “I had a strong sense of connection to Israel,” she said, “and that I should come and contribute what I could.”

 

She spent the next 13 years working with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), first helping build Israel’s asylum system and then helping establish an international migration center. 

People always ask, Rebecca said, whether she’s going to live in Israel for the rest of her life. “The idea of moving anywhere for the rest of your life is totally outdated,” she laughs. “Nobody asks that about, say, Chicago. But people always ask about it Israel.  But we are citizens, we own a home, pay taxes, send our kids to school here.”

 

Rebecca is married to Eliot Goldstein, whom she first met at at Habonim-Dror Camp Moshava, a Jewish day camp, when they were 13. They began dating before Rebecca moved to Bosnia, and married a few years later.

Besides traveling, Rebecca loves singing, playing the guitar and piano, reading, writing and traveling. “And eating,” she says, “a lot.”

 

Rebecca and Eliot have three kids. The oldest, a boy named Adin, is 5 and in his second year at Hand in Hand’s Jerusalem school. The middle son, Amitai, 4, is enrolled in Hand in Hand’s pre-K program. The youngest, Dariel, is 1.

While Rebecca and Eliot were working on their graduate degrees in New York, they began hearing about Hand in Hand. Good friends of friends had enrolled their child.  “We’d heard how amazing it was, and we always said we’d consider it when we had kids,” she said. “It was always in the back of our minds.

 

“If we’d been in America, we probably would have gone some kind of summer camp/Jewish day camp route," she said. “But when you live in a Jewish state, you are looking for a different set of guidelines for what will bolster your kids’ education. We want to impart a sense that we are Israeli, but also to give a broader picture of the world.”

About a year ago, Rebecca said, she began to grow increasingly concerned about her adopted country. There is, she said, “a growing amount of intolerant rhetoric and hate-driven violence that alarms me. 

 

“I feel very strongly that once this becomes increasingly dominant, and people don’t respond in very clear terms, saying this is unacceptable and reinforcing the democratic modes of behavior that you want to be prevalent, you risk entering into a dangerous cycle,” she said. “You can say ‘oh no, I’m so worried about it,’ or you can do something about it.”

So she started looking into organizations that do something about it, eventually accepting the position at Hand in Hand in March of this year.

 

“It’s easy to criticize. What I like about Hand in Hand is that it’s about creating and bolstering a reality that should be more widespread,” she said.  “Hand in Hand has figured something out in these 13 years that really works, and now we need to bring this to the service of Israeli society.”

That’s Rebecca’s mission: “getting in there, making it work,” she said. “We have to grow, we have to increase impact.” She focuses her enormous energy and talents on the systems, structures and concepts that will allow Hand in Hand to expand and replicate throughout Israel.  

Both as a parent and staff member, she said, “I find that over and over I’m meeting people who are incredibly interesting and thoughtful and dedicated. There’s very little taken for granted. Everyone realizes that we’re participating in something very unusual, something pioneering.”

Though she’s a relative newbie to Hand in Hand, she’s already become an indispensable part of the team.  At the writing of this article, she’s traveling the Eastern United States with two Hand in Hand graduates on a fundraising and speaking tour.

 

Despite the busy schedule, we hope she’ll get at least a short break to eat Thai food, visit bookstores and read the New York Times — the things she says she misses most about living in the States. 

Welcome to the team, Rebecca.

 

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