A Global Jewish Leader: Q&A with 2022 Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow Doron Shapir

We sit down with Doron Shapir, the 2022 JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow, to talk about his background and hopes for the coming year.

By Doron Shapir - 2022 JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman Fellow | February 14, 2022

As the 2022 JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow, Doron Shapir plans to make a positive impact on the Jewish world.

From his research on Jewish Cuba to his Hebrew language program for Israeli Arabs, Doron Shapir is a global citizen and leader. And as the 2022 JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow in Global Jewish Leadership, Shapir plans to do even more for the Jewish world. We sat down with Shapir to talk about his background, what inspired him to become a RIG Fellow, and his hopes for the coming year.

Describe your Jewish upbringing. What was your relationship to Jewish life like when you were younger? Any special traditions?

I can define my Jewish upbringing as traditional. For example, my mother would light the Shabbat candles every Friday night and we celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Passover with extended family. I also remember going to the synagogue with my grandfather on the High Holidays, though he was not religious at all. My grandfather, Zeev, was originally from Vysots’k, Poland. During the Holocaust, he fought the Nazis as a partisan. He was the only survivor from his family, so upon arriving in Israel, he decided to keep certain traditions in memory of his parents and younger brother. To me, my grandfather’s story reveals a meaningful aspect of the Jewish experience: cherishing and remembering our loved ones through our rituals.  

Doron Shapir

What has been one of the greatest influences in your life — whether that be a person, book, film, or class? How did it shape you into the leader you are today?

In 2008, I was a Seeds of Peace camper. Seeds of Peace is an American organization that works internationally to strengthen ties between youth in conflict-affected areas, such as the Middle East. The center of the organization’s activity is a summer camp in Maine. The unique opportunity to discuss the conflict with “the other side” made a big difference in my life. I genuinely believe that the ability to get to know one another truly matters.  

You developed an online platform to teach Arabic speakers Hebrew. What was this experience like? What were some challenges, and why is this work important? 

As a polyglot, I am well-aware of the power of language and recognize the possibilities that learning another language can open. Furthermore, growing up in Israel and serving in the IDF, I learned that many Israeli Arabs are eager to improve their Hebrew skills. Though I am not a professional Hebrew teacher, I decided to do my small part and help them achieve their goal.  

I enjoyed the building, designing, and teaching processes and am glad I could help empower some 5,000 Arabic speakers in Israel and throughout the Middle East.   

You also developed a research project involving the Cuban Jewish community. What was your research focus? What was that experience like, and what did you learn?

Because Israel and Cuba do not have official diplomatic relations, I have always been curious about the Cuban Jewish community. I thus sought to spotlight Jews in Cuba and raise public awareness regarding the challenges and opportunities of this unique community. The goal of my research, titled “Una Isla en La Isla (An Island within an Island),” was to illuminate the various ways in which Jewish life in Cuba has evolved in recent decades.

Throughout my time in Cuba, I connected with many Jews, learned a lot about the history of Jewish life there, and found the Cuban Jewish community to be strong, united, and genuinely optimistic about its future. More personally, as an Israeli Jew, I will never forget my feelings hearing the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” at the end of a Passover Seder in the heart of Havana, Cuba.  

Doron Shapir (far right) teaching Arabic to Israeli students.

When did you first hear about JDC? What inspired you to apply for the RIG Fellowship?

Growing up in Israel, I learned about JDC’s instrumental role in helping save and sustain global Jewish communities throughout the 20th century. I also remember hearing about the organization’s various initiatives to help empower modern Israeli society — although now, after just a month of orientation, I realize that I really had not known that much at all. I was motivated to apply because I care a lot about Jewish global awareness, and I am committed to leadership and service. Above all, I was deeply inspired by Ralph’s motto, “There is a single Jewish world, interconnected, intertwined,” and hence decided to apply so I could further learn about Ralph’s vision.   

Ralph I. Goldman (1914-2014) was JDC’s beloved Honorary Executive-Vice President, a builder of the State of Israel, and a global Jewish leader.What does Ralph Goldman’s legacy mean to you?

Ralph Goldman represents to me the very essence of a Jewish leader. Regardless of time and place, he was always willing to help the Jewish people. Operating in both the micro and macro levels, Ralph Goldman improved countless lives and served a variety of causes, building Israel, reconnecting with Soviet Jewry, and many, many others. I am therefore deeply proud to serve as a RIG Fellow and am committed to follow his example: Dream big and do even bigger. 

Looking forward to your RIG Fellowship, what are you most excited about? What do you anticipate might be some challenges?

As the world still struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, I realize that my ability to travel to some destinations might be impacted. Nevertheless, I am full of appreciation for both Josh Yudkin and Sarah Tagger, the last two RIG Fellows, for doing an amazing job despite the sensitive situation and the various restrictions. Like them, I am determined to experience this fellowship to the fullest, travel safely, and continue developing my leadership skills and vision.  

What unique perspective do you bring to the RIG Fellowship?

I view my RIG fellowship as a confluence of my identities, experiences, and perspectives. I was born and raised in Israel and have always felt connected to the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Through studying and working in the United States, I widened my horizons and closely interacted with the world’s second-biggest Jewish community. I also strived, through the study of foreign languages and international travel, to explore other cultures and better understand the world. Consequently, as a RIG Fellow, I aim to bring Jewish communities together and build bridges between the Jewish world and the world at large.  

I aim to bring Jewish communities together and build bridges between the Jewish world and the world at large.

Why is JDC so important for the Jewish world? What about our work inspires you? 

I deeply appreciate JDC’s deep commitment to serve and its inspiring flexibility. First, JDC is guided by a core Jewish principle, “kol yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh” — all Jews are responsible for one another. For more than a century, the organization has been operating throughout the globe in different roles and in various circumstances, always willing to serve, help, and very often save lives. Second, despite its age, JDC symbolizes the flexibility and multidisciplinarity that are essential to solving current as well as future local and global challenges. I am therefore excited to start my journey with this impactful organization and am deeply thankful for this life-changing fellowship.  

What else would you like to talk about that we didn’t address?

My family! I am a middle child between two girls, so you could imagine that I had to master high-stakes negotiations already as a kid. As I am beginning a year of discovery and growth, I express my gratitude to my parents and my grandparents for enabling me to arrive at this exciting and meaningful time.  

Doron Shapir is the 2022 JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow. Born and raised in Israel, Doron incorporates his deep love for his homeland into his work and scholarship in the international arena. Doron has served as the Director of Strategic and Economic Cooperation at the Embassy of Israel to the United States and a liaison officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Steadfast in his commitment to intercultural dialogue and education, Doron developed an online platform to teach Arabic speakers the Hebrew language. He graduated from Brandeis University as a Malkin Scholar with a master’s degree in International Economics and a bachelor’s in Global Studies.

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