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Hakhel wins prestigious prize for incubating communities

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JORDAN MOSHE

An intentional community is a collective with an intention and goal, but which operates in a flat structure in which every voice has a say.

Hakhel received the prize for its work to cultivate emerging Jewish communities all over the world, and for forging a connection between them and Israel. The coveted prize was awarded at a ceremony held at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s residence.

Hakhel actively cultivates emerging Jewish communities by providing seed funding and mentorship. It has reached more than 130 communities in 30 different countries since its creation in 2014.

“Hakhel has been instrumental in helping us here in Johannesburg, and really deserves the recognition,” said Leigh Nudelman Sussman on Sunday. “It has given Jewish communities in the diaspora unique tools and support that enables them to make a difference and help Jews to express a uniquely individual Jewish identity.”

Sussman is the founder of 9th Street, a community of multidisciplinary Jewish artists based in Johannesburg. The group aims to promote high-calibre Jewish artwork, and comprises emerging and veteran Jewish artists who collaborate in projects aimed at disrupting the way Johannesburg Jews think about their Jewish identity.

“Our Jewish identity here is fraught. We wanted people to ask questions about who they are as Jews,” says Sussman. “We strive to make our shrinking Jewish community here more vibrant and sustainable. Addressing expressions of our identity is central to that mission.”

She says 9th Street is intended to fill a cultural gap in Johannesburg Jewish life, especially among younger Jews.

“While there is community life here, little of what goes on really captures the younger Jewish population. So much of what we do is directed at the supposed ‘apathetic’ millennials whom people say aren’t interested in being Jewish. We show this isn’t true, that they actually lack a way to express their Jewish identity in a way beyond traditional modes.”

9th Street came to Hakhel’s notice shortly after its inception in May 2018, when Sussman and other community leaders applied for the support of the Israeli community incubator. The South African group was accepted into the network in September that year, establishing a cultural and mentoring bond with Hakhel and its general director, Aharon Ariel Lavi.

Says Sussman, “Aharon helped to provide the opportunity for leaders within these intentional communities from around the world to join forces and engage at conferences held in Israel and the United States. It was extremely formative for us as a new entity.

“Every person at 9th Street contributes ideas and energy that they want to instil in the community, and so much of this has been driven by Hakhel. When I attended the Jewish Intentional Community Conference in April 2019, it was eye-opening to see the full diversity of Jewish life from across the world in one place. From South Korea to Argentina, ultra-Orthodox to secular, all Jews were represented. They all strive to work together to create a cohesive community life network.”

Sussman says an intentional community needs to be peopled by individuals who live in close proximity to one other in order for it to be effective.

“It’s easier to get together and make things happen that way,” she says. “We cannot take this online – it wouldn’t work. It needs to be based in a certain locale to meet the needs of the people in that place specifically.” For this reason, 9th Street operates primarily out of Norwood and Orange Grove, including members within a 5km radius.

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