In his light

Habonim Dror youth movement launches fund in memory of its chairman, Ofir Libstein, who was killed on Oct. 7

The fund is meant to preserve two initiatives that Libstein started and create a leadership program that will be named for him

The Habonim Dror youth movement launched the “Ofir’s Light Fund” last week in honor of its chairman and the mayor of the Sha’ar Hanegev region, Ofir Libstein, who was killed in a gun battle with Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 in his hometown of Kfar Aza.

The fund is meant to preserve two initiatives that Libstein founded as chairman of the movement and to create a leadership program, in partnership with the Israeli leadership training nonprofit Maoz, the chairman of the fund, Asif Izek, told eJewishPhilanthropy

On the morning of Oct. 7, Libstein joined Kfar Aza’s emergency response team as it attempted to fight off dozens of Hamas terrorists who had infiltrated the kibbutz. Libstein was killed in the fighting, as was his son, Nitzan. A new community that is planned to be built outside of the Gaza Strip will be named Ofir in his honor.

“The fund that we created will allow us to continue to follow the light of Ofir, who was a leader in every fiber of his being, who loved the Jewish people and the land of Israel,” Habonim Dror CEO Shiri Madar, who proposed the fund, said at the launch event on Wednesday.

As chairman of Habonim Dror, Libstein created the Hallelujah program, a year-long leadership program for teenagers from around the world. It began with 100 participants, but now has over 700, who come to Israel at the end of each year for a summer camp. 

He also started a program, Netaim (saplings), which is meant to strengthen small Jewish communities. “The program is tailor-made for each community based on its needs with the goal of strengthening and preserving the community, which is not easy,” said Izek.

In general, the program consists of sending emissaries to the communities to work with teenagers and to bring 13- and 14-year-olds to Israel for a week-long program. It began in Europe but with plans to expand to South America and other areas, Izek said.

The Ofir’s Light Fund is meant to continue those two programs and also create a new adult leadership training initiative that will also be named for Libstein.

“Our plan is to create a leadership course for the Jewish people and have it be as prestigious as possible, to create a network of Jewish leaders to strengthen their communities and one another,” Izek said.

The program will be developed with Maoz and is meant to have a cohort of 40 participants each year from around the world.

Izek, who is also the mayor of the Hof HaCarmel region, said the fund has already raised several hundred thousand shekels and planned to raise a total of NIS 2 million in the coming year. “We are in talks with philanthropic donors and with government offices,” he said. 

Though the fund is affiliated with the Labor Zionist Habonim Dror movement, it will be overseen by a committee from across Israel’s political and religious spectrum, including former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of the Gur Hasidic movement, actor Sacha Baron Cohen (who was a member of Habonim Dror as a teenager), former Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski, Israel Prize winner and former Israeli presidential candidate Miriam Peretz and others.

Asked about the diverse nature of the committee — Livni, who comes from a Revisionist Zionist family; Shapira from the Hasidic community; Peretz from the Religious Zionist world — Izek laughed: “That’s exactly Ofir. Exactly. All of those people are his personal friends, people that he met during his work with Habonim Dror.”

Izek said the proposed leadership program would also not “have the Habonim Dror brand” and would be open to anyone, not only people affiliated with the movement.

“It’s a leadership program, with Maoz, for the leaders of the Jewish people,” Izek said. “We want a network of people who know how to speak to each other in normal times and times of emergency, who know each other’s needs, so we can ultimately strengthen the Jewish people.”