Jerry Schwell and Natan Sharansky (l.to r.) at the opening party in Rosh HaAyin for the Partnership at 20 Mission. Great music and food was provided by New Orleans, the Partnership Federation for Rosh HaAyin.
Photo by Jerry Fischer
By Jerry Fischer
Seven people from our Southern New England Partnership Consortium (SNEC) joined over 100 delegates from the USA, England, and Australia to commemorate 20 years of Partnership activities between communities in the Diaspora and cities and regions in Israel. Representing SNEC were Jerry Schwell, Stuart Schwartzstein, and Jerry Fischer from the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, Nancy Mimoun and Ellen Weber, President of the The United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien, and Howard and Esther Borer of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts.
The delegation spent Saturday and Sunday in our Partnership region of Afula and the Gilboa, visiting HaEmek Hospital, the Afula Rape Crisis Center, Beit Uri, a lifelong living facility for developmentally challenged adults, LaMerhav, a center for young adults without family or community support, and a visit to the home of Nael Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli educator who advocates full participation by all Arab Israelis in all aspects of civic and military life in Israel.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner in Moshav Ram On Sunday night, joined by all the Israeli volunteers who are on the Afula/Gilboa Partnership steering committee.
On Monday morning, on our way to Tel Aviv we visited Givat Haviva, the Center for Shared Society in Israel and were briefed by leaders of that organization as well as by educators from Moreshet, a Holocaust Education Center dedicated to teaching the Holocaust to Israel’s Arab citizens.
The international program opened on Monday evening in Rosh HaAyin with a New Orleans themed party sponsored by the New Orleans Federation, which is partnered with that city. A jazz trio as well as several Cajun chefs served up a feast of food and music.
Tuesday had us visit the western Galilee, accompanied by Israeli philanthropist Raya Strauss. We visited a violin school at Kibbutz Eilon, the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Ensemble (KCDC) at Kibbutz Gaaton, the Bedouin Arab village of Arab al Aramshe for lunch and a belly dancing show, and then the Nahariya Hospital, where we toured Israel’s first underground hospital.
Wednesday we traveled to the Negev to visit the development town of Ofakim and Moshav Netiv HaAsarah, which was relocated to the border with Gaza after they were forced to leave the Sinai as part of the peace treaty with Egypt. We toured the border and visited a beautiful mural and ceramic installation called Netiv l’Shalom, the Path to Peace, where we participated in adding ceramic figures to the installation. (see photos on p. xxx)
The last day of the Mission was Thursday, and it included a visit to Hadera in the center of the country to view an art exhibit based on readings of the Psalms, with an American and Israeli pairing creating works of art that reflected their interpretation of the Psalm they studied together.
The celebratory closing of the 20th anniversary Partnership Mission took place at the Peres Peace Center in Yaffo, with a presentation by Shimon Peres, Israel’s ninth President, and Natan Sharansky, the Chairman of The Jewish Agency. President Peres called for continued efforts to reach a two state solution, and for greater separation between religion and state in Israel. Chairman Sharansky called for continuing efforts to unite the Jewish people through the efforts of the Partnership2gether department of the Agency and pledged to strengthen efforts to create strong personal bonds between Israelis and Jews in the diaspora.
This year's Jewish Federation Solidarity Mission to Israel from June 28 - July 9, 2015, will be blogged by David Kohanski. David will be updating the site daily with the group's adventures, thoughts, pictures and videos.
By Jerry Fischer
Forty-seven people enjoyed an exceptional Mission to Israel from June 24-July 6. Organized by the JFEC together with Temple Emanu-El to honor Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg upon is impending retirement, the Mission experienced the dramatic highs and lows of a very intense Israeli experience.
Starting at the Biblical landscape preserve of Neot Kedumim and ending on the beaches of Tel Aviv, the group shared, participated in, and contributed to a rich and meaningful mission.
At Neot Kedumim we all planted trees, and looked on with pride as Rabbi Rosenberg planted the olive tree we had purchased in his honor.
Our official arrival in Jerusalem occurred at Mt. Scopus overlooking the Temple Mount. There we said a Shecheyanu and drank a celebratory shot of sweet kosher wine. (The wine experiences would improve as the Mission continued.) Muki Zohar, our guide, who had spoken to us in the fall, then gave us an orientation to the days ahead, and a briefing on current events in Israel.
The next day saw us in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, with a briefing in front of the Madaba mosaic, and a falafel/shwarma lunch before walking down to the Western Wall. At the Wall notes were inserted into the crevasses, individual prayers were said, and then the group split, with most going to the archeological excavations at Tel Maresha, and many spending the afternoon at the Israel Museum. Both were enjoyable experiences, but the group at the dig had the joy of one of our members, Steve Girelli, finding museum-quality oil lamps and a bowl.
That evening we heard from four panelists plus Kobi Ableman (a New London-native who made Aliya and lives in Jerusalem) speak about the future of the city. The program was organized by Chaim Landau of Perspectives Israel, and included Ari Eitan, the son of a Jerusalem Hareidi rabbi with graduate studies at Tel Aviv University, Shadia Saleh, a Christian-Arab Israeli, originally from Nazareth now living in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of Jerusalem, and Dr. Sarah Bernstein of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations. Dr. Bernstein is the wife of Rabbi Michael Marmur of the Progressive (Reform) seminary, Beit Shmuel. He spoke with us the following night during Kabbalat Shabbat services.
On Friday we visited Yad V’Shem and towards the end of our visit the younger of our delegation laid a wreath at the sculpture honoring Janusz Korczak. Dr. Korczak, a Jew himself, who was offered freedom, refused to be separated from his students and accompanied them to Treblinka, where they were all killed.
To prepare for Shabbat we went to Machaneh Yehuda market where many purchase challot, halva, falafel, wine and cheese to be consumed the next day.
Erev Shabbat services and dinner were held on the rooftop of Beit Daniel, with Rabbi Safman and her family joining us for the evening. Rabbi Rosenberg led the services, Rabbi Michael Marmur giving a wonderful sermon in his honor. Rabbi Safman led the Kiddush and motzi, and following the dinner, gave a special blessing to Robert and Mona Levin, who were celebrating their anniversary that day, as well as Sid and Brenda Rosen, and Paul and Andrea Kanfer, who had anniversaries during the Mission.
Shabbat was a day of rest for everyone, and it was needed! Some folks went to services at a local reform congregation, a Syrian congregation, or the Italian synagogue, but most slept in, enjoyed the pool and the air conditioning, met young emissaries, and, as Shabbat ended, many of us enjoyed an Armenian dinner before we all attended the Sound and Light show about Jerusalem’s history in the Tower of David. Several Young Emissary visits took place on Shabbat, as well as walks on the ramparts or through the alleyways of the Old City, with a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Austrian Hospice, and Notre Dame Hostel.
Sunday was a hot day. Literally. 111 degrees on the top of Masada! Yet we all saw the important sites, heard the dramatic story, and took in the incredible views of the Roman siege camps, the Dead Sea, and the Moab Mountains. A float in the Dead Sea, some time in the Jacuzzi, and then the pool capped off the day.
Monday’s highlights were the songful encounter at Caesarea with a Christian group from Curacao, and a delightful wine tasting and lunch at the Carmel Winery. While singing Haveinu Shalom Aleichem on the stage of the Roman Theater we were approached by the Curacao group to keep singing as they joined us in Spanish and Papiamento. It was a warm and touching moment. We then visited the youth village Yemin Orde, where we heard from two Ethiopian women who worked at the facility. The next day in Akko we lost one of our participants who was found by the Curacao group and returned to us. Maybe that was our reward for the moment of shared joy that we experienced together in Caesarea. Monday night in Haifa we learned of the murders of the three kidnapped students. It cast a pall on the evening. The next morning Rabbi Rosenberg, Sherry Barnes and Jerry led a short memorial service for the group before we continued on our journey.
The underground archeological tour of Akko gave us an insight into Crusader life, and a break from the heat. We then headed to Afula for a warm and enthusiastic welcome by the Mayor, Lilach Meidan, Betsalel Kuperwasser and the choirs and the orchestra of the Conservatory. We also met many former Young Emissaries as well as two of our communities three “grandchildren”, Mor Dekel’s baby and Tohar Talmor’s baby. During our visit, Nael Zouabi, a friend of Jerry Fischer, and a principal of an Arab Middle School in the Gilboa, spoke to the group about relations between Arab and Jewish Israelis and the importance of building strong ties between the two communities. Nael’s focus as an Arab Israeli is ensuring that Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel live together in peace and with a shared commitment to the State.
After the concerts by the musical groups we scattered to many different families in Afula and the Gilboa for home hospitality. Each hosting family had at least one fluent English speaker and the experiences were warm and wonderful, as was the food.Wednesday morning saw us awake to clearing mist over Lake Kinneret. After breakfast in the kibbutz dining room of Kibbutz Maagan we headed to Capernaum and then on to the Golan for jeep rides to the border with Syria and a view point from an IDF tank base. The Golan, after many years of quiet had become a more active border, with wounded from the Syrian civil war coming to Israeli hospitals for treatment, and occasional firing incidents emanating from various parties to the conflict.
That evening we had a presentation and discussion with members of the Israeli side of our Partnership steering committee and we presented a $1,800 check to HaEmek Medical Center for another year of fellowship sponsored by the medical and dental division of the JFEC.
On our way to Tel Aviv the next day we stopped in the ancient Mishnaic city of Sepphoris, and city that was excavated by Norwich native Eric Meyers, and studied by UCONN Judaics professor Stuart Miller. We were fortunate to catch the bar mitzvah of Barbara and Joe Segal’s grandson!
We arrived in Tel Aviv for lunch and a visit to Rabin Square and to the memorial for Yitzhak Rabin. Rabbi Safman and her son Yair met us there and we proceeded to the Carlton Hotel on the north end of the Tel Aviv beach. Several participants chose to remain at the hotel and enjoy the shore, while others visited the world-renown Design Museum in Holon or the Michal Negrin jewelry factory.
On Friday we visited Jaffa, Independence Hall, and the craft market at Nahalat Benyamin. Independence Hall, on July 4, really stirred within all of us an iunbderstanding of the revolutionary changes that took place for the Jewish people with the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
The Mission was coming to a close, and there was actually some sadness that it was ending, but a joyful Kabbalat Shabbat on the beach led by Rabbi Rosenberg, accompanied by Sherry Bsrnes and Ken Abrahms playing his tof (small drum) that he purchased in Jerusalem welcomed a Shabbat of rest and relaxation.
A scrumptious Shabbat dinner saw Maya Kriet and her friend, Yoav, join us for the evening, together with Rabbi Safman, Daniel Robinson, and Yair. A tribute to Aaron by r Gail Weber was read, and much singing in celebration of July 4 took place.
Shabbat, our last day in Israel was a time of visiting friends and family, going to museums, or just swimming and strolling. At the closing gathering and dinner much thanks was given to Jerry, Aaron, Sherry, and Marcia for putting together a wonderful Mission, and much thanks and credit was given to the group by Jerry for being a warm, caring, and loving group of travelling companions.
We left Israel feeling much closer to the country and the people, and we returned to news of missiles and war. We are now in a state of anxiety and fear. We know Young Emissaries in the IDF, and we know that they are acting with strength and courage to protect their country. We are all praying for them.
On May 8, 2013, Jerry Fischer, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut (1st on right) led a mission from his community to Israel and to HaEmek Hospital. This important event was in coordination with the good offices of our local JAFI/ Jewish Agency for Israel, represented by Neta Kipelzada (front row, 1st on right), the Living Bridge Coordinator of the Partnership 2Gether Afula / Gilboa program. Link to full Emek Mission article
The Emek Medical Center is in the Jezre'el Valley within the city of Afula in Northern Israel.