Partnership brings Israel into our lives

Partnership brings Israel, September 2010

By Irvin Moscowitz, Dayton Chair, Partnership With Israel

Some experiences in life contain such meaning they’re hard to put into words. This is my experience with Partnership With Israel.

The Western Galilee Consortium of Partnership just celebrated its Bar Mitzvah. I’ve been involved with the Partnership for 12 years, and it has surpassed every expectation I’ve had and surprised me every step of the way.

Arab and Jewish students from Canton, Ohio and Akko, Israel meet in the Western Galilee in June after years of studying together through a Partnership project

When the Partnership first started, no one knew exactly what the whole program was; we felt our way as we went through many projects.

The idea behind Partnership was to foster people-to-people connections among Israelis and Jews around the world.

The first projects included medical, arts, and educational exchanges going both ways across the ocean and benefitting each side in its own way. The scope of the projects grew through the years and so did the impact on the communities in Israel and America.

Now, our consortium of communities — from the central region of the United States in partnership with Israel’s Western Galilee — has been deemed by the Jewish Agency as one of the best and most productive of the 45 partnerships globally.

A few years ago, the Budapest, Hungary Jewish community reached out to our Partnership for help. They knew the work we do and they had a problem with Jewish identity and continuity. There, antisemitism is prevalent. We searched for ways to help this community and have made a difference. Last summer, a group of Holocaust survivors was paired with teens, some of whom had just learned they were Jewish. They studied about Israel and then took a trip to Israel together. They could see it through each other’s eyes and viewpoints.

This summer, a second group of teens from Hungary, the Western Galilee, and consortium cities in the U.S. spent time at a camp in Israel, and then at Camp Szarvas, near Budapest. These Jewish teens got to know each other in these settings.

Our consortium’s “Tri-Teen” project received the Jewish Agency’s top award for Partnership projects. Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, presented this award to us during our consortium’s Bar Mitzvah celebration gathering in the Western Galilee and Jerusalem in June.

We toured some of the many projects with which we are involved, including the new construction at the Western Galilee Hospital. This is the closest Israeli hospital to the Lebanon border, and a state-of-the-art, four-story, bomb-proof underground hospital is being built, a model for all Israeli hospitals.

We visited a store in the old city of Akko, which sells art and other items made by local people with disabilities, and we met with a group of teens from Canton, Ohio — half of them Jewish, half of them Muslim — who were finally meeting their Akko counterparts after years of studying with them through a program called Tri-Wizards.

Our Shabbaton on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem included the Americans in our group and our Israeli counterparts, many of whom brought their spouses. Our Shabbat activities were led by an educational group called Kolot. They brought textual perspective to modern life; we examined today’s issues, both personal and public, in a Torah-based light. Phenomenal.

On Saturday evening, we had a roundtable discussion about the week and on what we studied. Picture Havdalah on a balcony on Mt. Scopus, overlooking the sun setting on a golden-red view of the Old City. It just couldn’t be better.

What does all this mean to Partnership participants? I’m very fortunate. Over the years, I have made many friends both in Israel and in the other consortium cities. I know my way around a beautiful, important region of Israel that I was relatively unaware of before I got involved.

I feel at home there and in Jerusalem. I know that some of my work has made a great deal of difference in this region, and in the lives of its citizens. My understanding of the Israeli way of life and the Jewish way of life is much higher than I have ever thought it could be.

Almost all of the people involved with the Partnership for any time feel this way. It’s a wonderful feeling and it lasts.

The connections through Partnership are exponential. Last week, I got an e-mail from Rachel Ettun, the leader of my study session in Jerusalem, telling me that her daughter Tamar, who just graduated from Yale with a MFA, is going to be traveling in the U.S. I e-mailed her back that if she wants to come through Dayton, give us a call.

Gayle and I had a wonderful two days showing her around Dayton on her way to California. We now have another close tie in Jerusalem, which is something we value.

All of us give to causes in one way or another, in large and small ways, through our donations or efforts.  With the Partnership, we see the effects of our giving directly. We understand the effect it has on people. Many times, we know the people who benefit. And we see how these people benefit us directly, personally and as a community.

We understand why Natan Sharansky feels that Partnerships created throughout the country will be the new platform for connecting global Jewish communities directly with Israeli communities.

In Jerusalem, I saw a kid wearing a T-Shirt that read, “Toledo, Ohio is in Israel.” I thought that was exactly how I feel, but a little more. Part of me is in Israel and Israel is always a part of me. This is all because of my work with the Partnership.

Consider joining us on this remarkable journey. You will get more than you give.

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