From Education to Hityashvut: An Interview with Gael Grunewald

Gael Grunewald has completed his term as the Head of the Department of Education at the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and returned to the position of Head of the WZO’s Chativa LeHityashvut, where he previously served for five years until 2020. During his tenure as Head of the Education Department, Gael significantly expanded the department’s activities, doubling the number of shlichim it sends to the Diaspora by collaborating with other organizations and government ministries. This has made a significant difference for smaller Diaspora communities that were previously underserved. Rabbi Aron White spoke with Gael to learn more about his transition to the Chativa LeHityashvut.

Shifting from Jewish education to the Chativa LeHityashvut seems like a drastic shift.

The Mizrachi movement has always acted under the banner of the nation of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel. In the Department of Education, I worked to spread the Torah of Eretz Yisrael to the people of Israel in the Diaspora. Today I am more concerned with the task of settling the people of Israel in the Land of Israel. I know this mission very well from my previous tenure and I am very excited to work with the people who are on the front lines of the war and the front lines of settling the Land. 

What is the role of the Chativa LeHityashvut in the current war?

Normally, the Chativa LeHityashvut is active in the field. It knows the needs and requirements of the various local councils very well and how to respond to their needs. Naturally, during wartime, the needs and demands increase and the relevance of the Chativa LeHityashvut increases accordingly. Ultimately, our division is an executive arm of the Israeli government and Israel’s Ministry of Community Affairs, which is headed by Minister Orit Strook. After October 7, the Chativa LeHityashvut put all its resources at the disposal of Minister Strook to quickly respond to the needs of the evacuees.

Can you give us a concrete example of what the Chativa LeHityashvut does?

When a community is forced to quickly evacuate a war zone, there is high potential for chaos. Members of southern and northern communities were forced to disperse to different hotels and vacation villages, separating community members from one another. To maintain community unity and resilience, our professionals intervened immediately to support the evacuees. The State of Israel also established the Tekumah Authority to strengthen the Gaza Envelope communities, now renamed as the “Region of Revival.” The Chativa LeHityashvut knows how to build temporary communities and has played a leading role in doing so. We work in full cooperation with the Tekumah Authority Director Brigadier-General Moshe Edri, who does holy work with real professionalism and infinite sensitivity.

How do you define success? 

This is a difficult question to answer. To me, real victory does not depend only on the IDF’s heroic efforts in Gaza, but also on the future of the border communities. We must establish more businesses, more farmers, and have more children. This is the mission of our people. This is also our challenge in the north. The State of Israel will require significant resources to return the tens of thousands of residents in the north who were evacuated from their homes. Just as importantly, we must invest in strengthening Jewish settlement in the area.

Is the entire Chativa LeHityashvut focused on the war right now?

Like every office and company in Israel, several of our employees were called up to the reserves, and our remaining employees are naturally focused on the war. At the same time, we do not have the luxury of setting aside all of the division’s ongoing tasks. We are moving forward on all fronts. Together with the Ministry of Community Affairs, the Civil Administration and the Israel Lands Authority, we are in the midst of building 11 new communities in southern Israel. This is a historic initiative that I launched in my previous term and, thanks to the good work of those who came after me, it has progressed very well. Beyond that, we are also responsible for all the communities of Judea and Samaria who are under significant pressure.

The State of Israel has a long way to go, but Baruch Hashem, we are on the right path. The Chativa LeHityashvut will be there to help more Jews put down roots in more communities throughout the Land of Israel.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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