Today was packed with visits to an incredible assortment of places. We started north of Tel Aviv at Israel’s largest food bank, Leket. This incredible social services agency works with over 195 non-profits to provide food assistance to more than 130,000 Israelis weekly. Leket is a great example of the high-impact organizations the Jewish Federation of St. Louis directly supports.
We then journeyed north to Nazareth, a booming Arab city that is home to both the Church of Visitation and the newest center for tech innovation in Israel. From Nazareth, we traveled to the coastal city of Haifa to see the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The Technion is home to a prolific program turning innovation and invention into commercial enterprises, known as transfer. As a result, the Technion has been responsible for the formation of more than 1,500 companies in the past 20 years. The entrepreneurial programs coupled with the exceptionally high level of academic research make the Technion the MIT of Israel and home to three nobel prize winners in science on its active faculty.
We made a short stop to admire the Baha’i Gardens, a shrine to the Baha’i faith, which found refuge from persecution in Israel. Their story is one of courage and suffering, and Israel is a haven for their world headquarters where they can practice freely.
Our final visit of the afternoon was to the Mishmar HaEmek Kibbutz. We learned about the incredible contributions Kibbutzim, or collectives, have made to Israel’s creation and economy. Today Mishmar HaEmek, like many of its counterparts, features a dichotomy of socialist life in a capitalist market. The collective is home to Tama, a global corporation producing covering for hay bales. Tama supports the Kibbutz members and allows them to give more than $1 million annually to support their region through charitable donations beyond the Kibbutz.
One of the most poignant tributes to the children who died in the Holocaust is also at Mishmar HaEmek. This simple sculpture of a mother and her child serves as an overwhelmingly powerful memorial.
After this sobering and enlightening day our group was treated to dinner with several local dignitaries at one of the region’s top wineries, Tishbi.
You can view pictures from the day here.
By Rep. Lauren Arthur and Russell Shankland
We enjoyed another incredible (and full!) day. While today’s lessons varied as much as the activities, a few observations keep emerging.
Democracy comes in many forms and can encompass many ideas. The American states often get called “laboratories of democracy.” But, we are also experiencing variations in Israel’s democracy. This includes the national system, which is a parliamentary one involving 10 parties represented in the Knesset.
It extends to individual communities as well. We visited a socialist kibbutz, where everyone, regardless of job, receives the same share of the profit. While this arrangement seems wholly different than what we have back home, the kibbutz also functions democratically. Each member casts an equal vote.
We also learned about Israeli civic virtue. Israelis look for opportunities in everything, especially failure. This ignites an entrepreneurial spirit and hardens resolve.
Hospitality in this country is unmatched. And Israeli wine is the real deal.
By Sen. Dave Schatz
The first couple of days were eye opening learning about the complex problems of the state of Israel and all the religious and cultural issues, the type of government and how it is different from ours and also getting to firsthand see the land that I have heard about and is described in the Bible.
Today was another incredible day that started out by visiting a food distribution center called Leket that collects and distributes surplus food to places that provide nutritious safe food to those in need. Then we went to the church of the Visitation that is built over what is believed to be the location that the angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her that she would give birth to a son that would be the Messiah and save the world.
Then after lunch where we had falafel and flying lamb it was off to the Technion Institute of Technology. We made a brief stop for photos at probably one of the most impressive sites in all of Israel, a garden that overlooked the Port of Haifa.
Back on the bus again we headed to a kibbutz where we learned about communal living and the benefits and difficulties from a very entertaining host, Lydia Aisenberg.
Then onto the Tishbi winery for some wine tasting, great food and great dessert before heading back to the hotel.
This has been an eye opening experience learning about the role the Jewish Federation is playing in all of this as well. Even though it’s late I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us.
By Mark Schupp
As a non-Jew – but married to a Jew – this trip has been particularly enlightening and insightful for me. As I have learned from Jill (Senator Schupp) over the past 35 years, the importance of social justice and social welfare seem to be in the Jewish DNA. Today’s activities strongly reinforced this fundamental focus and principle of being a Jew.
Our first stop of this long day was at Leket, which is a distributor of food for “food pantries” across Israel. Leket is partially funded by the Jewish Federation and serves a very important role in providing food to those in the country who need it. Not only did our group learn about the process of Jews helping Jews, and non-Jews in Israel, I was reminded of how St. Louis plays an important role in organizing and funding of similar organizations.
No matter which religion, if any, you believe, you would have to be in awe and respectful of the Virgin Mary’s stone house preserved in the Church of Visitation in Nazareth. “The” Nazareth. You also can’t help but to look around at the terrain in the area and imagine Jesus and his posse walking over and around the extremely steep hills indigenous to the area.
The group was allowed a short stop at Baha’i Gardens, a beautiful and meticulously maintained and manicured garden overlooking the Haifa Aqua Bay. The weather and typography was comparable Northern California, especially San Francisco and the prior stop at the Technion had the feel, in many ways, of U.C. Berkeley.
One of the last stops of the day, was at a kibbutz, Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’Emek. I have obviously heard much about kibbutz life over the years but have never had the great fortune of visiting one. My perception was that most people visited kibbutzim for only a short time, sort of a rite of passage for many young Jews trying to get in touch with their Jewish heritage through manual labor in the crop fields of Israel. Mishmar shattered this perception. Many of the members of Mishmar were lifelong (70+ years) residents and I am still wrapping my head around the motivation of their residents to stay in and even come back to, after a long hiatus, this communal life.