Last week, I returned from my first visit to Israel in my new capacity as Exec. My visit had three main objectives: to introduce me to key policy decision makers and strategic partners in Israel; to attend the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting; and to meet those in our partnership region of Yokne’am and Megiddo. Additionally, the visit was timed to overlap with a small mission from our community organized by Diane Katzman.
The trip was enormously successful and, perhaps needless to say, packed with meetings and engagement. I had asked Barry Rosenberg (immediate past CEO, currently Senior Advisor to the President & CEO) to plan the trip with me and to accompany me as part of his work for Federation this year. Having Barry’s expertise in Israel was invaluable in ensuring the continuity of our relationships with key players in the country. Stephen Cohen (VP of JFed’s Planning & Allocations), and Sonia Dobinsky (Exec. of CAJE) also visited Israel to conduct their own meetings, some of which overlapped with my own. Ruth Lederman (JFed Director of Development), along with Sheila Greenbaum and Patty Croughan from the Board, provided support for the women’s mission. And Yael Shapira (our representative in the region) was the critical connector for all off our efforts.
A few highlights of my trip:
- During a small meeting with Federation’s large city execs, Natan Sharansky (Chairman of the Jewish Agency) explored ways in which the next government was going to address pluralism and diversity in the country. As you may know, the issue is making it difficult for Netanyahu to form a governing coalition. Sharansky’s main concern was possible responses and resolution to the demands for gender equality and accommodation at the wall. But my sense is that the next government may now be in a position where pluralism – including the kind of secularism that animated the nation’s founding – becomes a more dominant and politically potent force going forward.
- Midweek, Stephen, Sonia, Barry, and I joined Ruth and the women’s group in a site visit to Muzot in Jaffa (just next to Tel Aviv). Muzot is an arts high school that enrolls teenagers who have had significant challenges and provides an arts-rich curriculum and nurturing environment to move them toward a stable and productive future. Started in 2005, the program is showing some initial success, and the mere fact of its existence speaks to the determination of its founders and lay leadership.Our visit included meeting in small groups with students, a large-group discussion with their lay board and our staff and volunteers, and witnessing an art and a music performance. Jewish Federation of St. Louis has supported Muzot for a number of years, providing funds for lunches for the students, and last year we allocated an emergency subsidy for substantial building repairs when its building collapsed. Barry deserves the credit for identifying this gem and cultivating the relationship that our community now has with it. It is a humbling example of the impact that Federation can have, and I convey to you the sincere thanks that its directors delivered to us at the event.
- In our partnership region of Yokne’am, I had the pleasure of meeting the Mayor, Simon Alfassi, as well as representatives from Megiddo, and getting to know the staff on the ground who have transformed that city over the last 15 years. We had a few minutes after lunch to share our thoughts about the relationship, and Mayor Alfassi expressed the sense of deep connection between his community and ours. There is a good deal of affection for this relationship and, in particular, the work that Stephen Cohen and Yael Shapira (our representative in Israel) have cultivated over this time. Barry was present, and the moment was an important and poignant reminder of the legacy of his leadership for our community.From my end, I got to deliver my first public impromptu speech in Hebrew (since I’m about as fluent as a 5-year-old, if anyone was impressed I’m sure it was because of the attempt, not because of anything I actually said!).
- Our visit was completed when we met up with the women’s group for a public dedication of a traffic circle honoring the “Atlanta-St. Louis Partnership,” where a group of Ethiopian children played classical music taught to them by their Russian tutor. It was a picture of the kind of integrative absorption that we have supported in the area. Take a look at the photos on this page.
Those were the main highlights of the trip. Thanks to all for your work and efforts toward a strong Israel partnership.