White House Hanukkah Celebration Includes NYU Wagner Alumna

Rebecca Bardach

One evening in late November, two first-grade classrooms in a Hand in Hand bilingual school in Jerusalem were set ablaze by arsonists who also scrawled hateful graffiti on the school walls against Arabs and co-existence. Parents, students, and staff – including Rebecca Bardach, a 2007 graduate of NYU Wagner and the Director of Resource Development and Strategy for the Hand in Hand organization – worked together to make sure the school opened the very next day.

On December 17, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted two of the school’s 9th graders at the White House Hanukkah celebration, joined by Bardach and other members of the Hand in Hand community dedicated to achieving Arab-Jewish reconciliation in Israel.

The President said the members of the school community “teach us a critical lesson for this time in our history: The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate. That’s what the Hanukkah story teaches us. That’s what our young people can teach us – that one act of faith can make a miracle. That love is stronger than hate. That peace can triumph over conflict. And during this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making some small miracles ourselves and sharing them with the world."

Bardach has worked for more than 17 years in migration, development and foreign aid.  She directed refugee assistance programs in Hungary and in Bosnia (1994-1998).  She moved to Israel in 1998, where she has worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with asylum claimants and government policy makers on refugee issues, and then with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to establish its Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), which works on a wide range of international migration issues in Israel and abroad.

In her 13 years at JDC, Rebecca also established the Committee's tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka and directed the Middle East Program, which conducts cooperative programs between Israelis and Palestinians in health and welfare.

She earned her MPA in Public Policy and International Development from NYU Wagner and BA in English Literature from Columbia University.  Originally from Berkeley, California, she is married and has three children – two of them enrolled at the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem. 

Hand in Hand brings together thousands of Jews and Arabs in five schools and communities throughout Israel, demonstrating on a daily basis the viability of inclusion and equality for all citizens of Israel.  As its network of bilingual schools and communities expands, so does its message to Israeli society: “There is another way.”