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Israel Centre director turns attention to education

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Dafi Forer Kremer, the new director of the Israel Centre in South Africa, is determined to assist Jewish educators to teach South Africans about Israel.

Having spearheaded many successful projects during her 25 years in the non-profit sector, Kremer is now focused on giving teachers the skills and knowledge they need to educate people about Israel, addressing challenges they face in the classroom, and talking about the dilemmas facing Israel and Jews.

The skills will be taught through webinars, a five-day seminar in Israel starting on 14 July, and educational projects aimed at influencing participants’ students and colleagues. Kremer is looking for candidates who are passionate about changing the way Israel is taught at educational institutions.

She feels a special connection to South Africa, having first come to the country from Israel in 2004, when she arrived with her husband, Shay, and their three boys after Shay was appointed shaliach (emissary) of the Jewish Agency for Israel. As Kremer was accompanying him, Emunah offered her the role of director of its women’s learning programme. She ran a variety of projects in this position, and doubled the number of participants in Emunah Beit Midrash to 2 000.

“During this time, I gave birth to my first daughter,” says Kremer, who is also a committed runner and coach who has completed half marathons. The Kremers went back to Israel in 2007. “We had another girl. Since then, we came back to South Africa on various occasions with the other four staying in Israel. Two of them are married.”

When Kremer returned to South Africa in January this year to take up the directorship position, she received a warm welcome from the Jewish community. She says South Africa has the most unique Jewish community in the world, and applauds the way it looks after shlichim.

Her other agenda as director is to “create a programme that will help people interested in making aliya to do it in the easiest way possible”.

To South Africans seeking to make aliya, she says, “We need you. Hamas tries to destroy us. They have caused so much destruction in the south, we need people to come and rebuild the state. Israelis are back to routine life even though a war is still being fought in Gaza, and many communities still have soldiers on the front. The Jewish community in South Africa is amazing, and we need this quality of people.”

Kremer plans to create a group of doctors who can work in Israel, a country desperate for good doctors. “In government hospitals in South Africa, doctors get exposed to severe and complicated cases. They get excellent experience. In Israel, we need doctors at this level. In fact, South Africa is still recognised as offering a high-level academic medical programme at university. Israel doesn’t ask for the South African doctors to write its exam, unlike Russian doctors.”

She will also continue the Israel quizzes and teaching tours to Israel conducted by schools and non-formal educational organisations.

Kremer’s role as Israel Centre director came about unexpectedly late last year. Having worked for 20 years in the field of fundraising, she decided to try a more management-orientated role. This resulted in her becoming programme director of a pluralistic non-profit organisation called ITIM (Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life).

“While running this team [through ITIM], I had a meeting with the chairperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel,” she says.

Afterwards, Kremer spoke with some people there about their common experiences in South Africa. “I said the Jewish community in South Africa was amazing, and I was so in touch with its members, and that I would go back tomorrow. They said, ‘We’re seriously looking for someone to replace the current shaliach. Please would you apply for the position?’”

Kremer called her husband to ask him what he thought about a possible three-year position in South Africa. “What’s the question? Of course!” he responded.

When the duo arrived in South Africa in January, “It was difficult, knowing that we were going to be away with the war going on in Gaza,” Kremer says. “We didn’t know how long our son, who is married, would be in Gaza.” It was also difficult, she says, to deal with South African government hostility to Israel, and its accusation that the Israel Defense Forces was committing genocide.

Not long ago, Kremer altruistically donated a kidney to an Arab citizen, a Bedouin resident of Rahat, with whose family she has maintained close ties. In an article she wrote last year, she said she would be happy to donate to anyone regardless of religious, ethnic, or gender distinctions.

Kremer, who has degrees in political science and public policy, helped build up the Bnei Akiva youth movement in Israel. “I built up the development resources department,” she says, which entailed creating a pool of former members and getting them to pay member fees. These fees went towards former members in need and to organise events for former members.

“I created day-to-day activities to support the movement, especially focusing on underprivileged societies in Israel. I established a communal theatre for Ethiopian kids. They themselves write the scripts of the shows from their own life.”

After leaving South Africa in 2007, she spent nine years with Bnei Akiva in Israel before joining Tzohar-Rabbinic, an organisation dealing with religion and state in Israel, as well as fundraising. She was responsible for raising more than 20 million shekels (R102.5 million at today’s exchange rates) annually, and managed a team of raising funds around the world.

She helped Tzohar with one of its Jewish life-cycle programmes – a trip to St Petersburg in Russia for couples to prove their Jewishness by, among other things, accessing documents hidden in forgotten archives pertaining to Jews who had to flee the Soviet Union during World War II.

“Most of the participants’ fees supported the continuation of the programme to help more couples prove their Jewish name,” she says.

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