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Dozens Of New Members Give Knesset Fresh New Face

The Knesset building.

The Knesset building.
Photo Credit: Flash 90

TEL AVIV – Last week’s Israeli election saw a major shakeup in the country’s government, with 53 new members elected to its parliament, the Knesset.

Some already have received wide attention, including Yair Lapid, the middle class-focused chairman of Yesh Atid; Naftali Bennett, the high-tech entrepreneur who chairs the new Jewish Home party; technocrat Yair Shamir, Yisrael Beiteinu’s No. 2; and Moshe Feiglin, the nationalist settler who finally landed a Knesset seat with the ruling Likud Party.

Though lesser known, many of the other new faces in the Knesset are no less interesting. Meet five of them: a woman with a doctorate in Talmud, an Ethiopian immigrant, a mother of 11 from Hebron, a socially conscious venture capitalist and an American-born rabbi.

Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid)

He’s a haredi rabbi in a party calling for haredi army service. He’s been an advocate for coexistence in a city fraught with interreligious conflict. Soon he’ll be the first American-born member of Israel’s Knesset since Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Dov Lipman, 41, originally from Silver Spring, Md., was a Jewish educator in Cincinnati and Maryland before moving to Israel with his family in 2004. They ended up in Beit Shemesh, a Jerusalem suburb with a large haredi and Anglophone population that also has been a flashpoint for conflict between haredi and Modern Orthodox Israelis. As the city’s conflicts escalated in recent years, Rabbi Lipman tried to serve as a bridge between the two sides.

He says he believes there’s no contradiction between working, serving the country and being haredi, and he wants to bring that ethic to Israel.

“In America, haredim have education, there are opportunities and they work,” said Rabbi Lipman. “That issue bothers us more because we know there’s no contradiction.”

Few expected Lipman, No. 17 on the Yesh Atid ticket, to land a seat in Knesset. But Yesh Atid campaigned hard. Every night, it seemed, Lipman hosted a parlor meeting for English-speaking Israelis.

When Yesh Atid won 19 seats, he was in.

Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid)

Ruth Calderon, 51, is a Jewish scholar who, like Rabbi Lipman, advocates interreligious understanding. But unlike Lipman and most Jewish scholars in Israel, Calderon earned her degree at a university, not a yeshiva.

But that didn’t stop her from starting one. Calderon, who holds a doctorate in Talmud from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, founded the Elul Beit Midrash in Jerusalem in 1989, one of the city’s first Jewish study houses where secular and religious Israelis can study and discuss Judaism together. More recently, Calderon founded Alma, a center for Hebrew culture in Tel Aviv with a mission to combine Jewish, Israeli and universal culture.

Calderon calls herself a “non-halachic person,” but that doesn’t stop her from posting daily passages from the Mishnah on her Facebook page. She also hosted “Hacheder,” a television program in which she discussed Hebrew culture with guests.

Erel Margalit (Labor)

The Labor Party’s campaign this year, driven by party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, was to strengthen middle-class and poor Israelis. One of the campaign’s central slogans declared that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is good for rich people. Shelly is good for you,” and one of the party’s most public new faces was 2011 social protest leader Stav Shaffir.

Now one of the party’s freshmen is one of Israel’s wealthiest and most successful venture capitalists.

Erel Margalit, 51, founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners, has been declared “king of the exits” by The Marker, Haaretz’s business magazine. From 2000 to 2010, he presided over seven $100 million exits, or sales of stakes in companies – the most in Israel.

But Labor’s social-democratic values speak to Margalit. He grew up on a kibbutz and in 2002 founded JVP Community, a fund to address social issues in Jerusalem.

After Labor split and fell to a historic nadir of eight seats in 2011, Margalit founded the Labor Now organization to recruit new members to the party and reinvigorate its values. He ran for the party chairmanship that year but dropped out of the race.

Margalit may still harbor leadership ambitions. After Labor won 15 seats last week, he criticized Yachimovich’s campaign focus for the party’s failure to do better.

Orit Struk (Jewish Home)

Orit Struk lives in Hebron, where she runs the Jewish community’s legal and diplomatic division and has made her home for 30 years.

A mother of 11 and grandmother of 12, Struk also is the founder and chairwoman of Human Rights in Yesha, an organization that advocates for settlers’ rights. In that capacity, Struk has fought against alleged abuse of settlers by soldiers and policemen, and advocated for the rights of those who protested Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

Struk, 52, also runs the Land of Israel lobby in the Knesset that fought for settlement expansion and legalizing settlement outposts.

Struk at times was described as hurting Bennett’s campaign to present Jewish Home as an inclusive right-wing party, not a settlers’ party. But in an interview shortly before the election with Israel’s Channel 2, Bennett denied she was a liability.

Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid)

Shimon Solomon, 44, has come a long way to the Knesset. When he was 12, Solomon set out on foot with his family from Ethiopia, traveling via Sudan to Israel.

Later, after becoming a social worker, he returned to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, from 2005 to 2007 to help others follow in his footsteps. He also works with Physicians for Human Rights as an advocate for refugees and is a former director of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, a center for orphans of the Rwandan genocide.

The future of refugees and migrants in Israel has been a topic of heated debate over the last year or two.

Solomon served in the Israel Defense Forces paratroopers unit and is a reserve officer. He is one of two Ethiopians on Yesh Atid’s list along with Pnina Tamnu-Shata, the first Ethiopian woman to be elected to the Knesset.

(JTA)

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