After our group left, Rick and I had a few days in Jerusalem to meet with more folks and wander through the streets. We had the opportunity to visit with one of our grantees- Yad L'Yad, or Hand to Hand, a growing movement of Arab and Israeli schools. The campus in Jerusalem is their biggest, with about five campuses currently being operated. Their goal is to have a total of 15 campuses throughout the country.
The students study together, learn Hebrew, Arabic and English along with a broad range of academic subjects and have both Arab and Israeli teachers. The parents work through issues together - everything from curriculum review to holiday celebrations. They estimate that between the students and their families that about 20,000 individuals are growing and learning together. Talk about an impact!
Then it was off to meet with Offi Zisser with the Jewish Funders Network Israel to talk about the state of Israeli Philanthropy. One of the questions I was asked to explore while in Israel was whether those Israelis that can are contributing to support important local causes. The answer is a resounding yes. It is happening in a number of areas, in a number of ways. In the United States it is part of the culture of the wealthy to be involved philanthropically. There is a move to create the same culture in Israel. Currently there are over 1,500 Israeli contributing $25,000 or more annually, with an estimated 10,000 having the capacity.
At the same time, there are grassroots efforts emerging where community members are supporting local efforts. Historically, the country was so new that Israelis didn't have the capacity to develop Israeli philanthropy while there were some who felt their contribution was simply living in Israel on the front lines. As the country continues to develop and expand its capacity, so too are philanthropic efforts underway.
Rick and I then headed out to wander in Jerusalem, starting with the Mahane Yehuda - or the open air Jewish market. When I spent my year in Israel on Kibbutz, I remember being very cold and my father sending me money to buy yarn to make an afghan. I so remember going to the Mahane Yehuda and purchasing the yarn and how warm and toasty I was while I was making the blanket and after it was completed. And of course, since it was 1976, the afghan is green, gold and orange. We still have it, and it keeps us warm and cuddly up in Mendocino (we just don't let anyone see it!).
We then wandered down Ben Yehuda Street, admiring the vendors and shops and stopped to have lunch. We finished up the day with Rick following the stations of the cross while I shopped.
You Can Go Home Again
On Friday, I was able to step back in time by spending the day with my Kibbutz family. During my year on Kibbutz, each student was "adopted" by a Kibbutz family. The Sondak's "adopted" me and every day I would spend the afternoon studying, practicing my Hebrew and visiting my family. I was particularly close with my Kibbutz sister, Hagit and with my Kibbutz mother, Shifra. Hagit and her adorable husband, Yoni, picked us up and we spent the day driving around Jerusalem, visiting the Kibbutz and enjoying a meal together in Abu Gosh, a nearby Arab village. I remember always being told not to go beyond the Cow Shed as there was an unfriendly Arab village on the other side. As opposed to Abu Gosh, whose men came to help run the kibbutz during the War of Independence. Such a dichotomy of views and allegiances.
One of the amazing stories of Israel was that of the Bullet Factory. Right before the Israel declared its statehood, it realized that once the British left that they would be attacked. They needed guns and bullets for the war ahead. How to do it with the British watching their every step? They built a "storage facility" under the laundry of a local kibbutz and each day some 40 young folks would descend underneath the laundry and make bullets. Not only did the British not know what they were doing but they gave the Kibbutz all of their laundry to do! During their three years in operation they made over 2 million bullets. Such an amazing story.
Of course, also amazing was the fact that when we arrived at the factory, who do we run into but my cousins from Long Island and London.
It was then on to Mini Israel which has to be the tackiest tourist spot in the country. Saying that it was still fun!
Our last day in Israel was spent with Carol and Dan Karsch. Carol was the previous Executive Director of JCF. It was great to connect and share a few final visits together to the Reut Foundation; the Lod Development organization and the Save a Child's Heart Foundation of the Wolfson Hospital. My head is spinning and I hope to write a reflections piece on the whole experience. But in the meantime, this was truly a trip of a lifetime!
When I lived in Israel from 1976-77, I realized that the country was less than 30 years old, but I didn't realize just how young and new the state was. Coming in to Jerusalem is something just not to be believed. Jerusalem is a top notch, model, metropolitan city. It is just extraordinary.
Our group arrived in Jerusalem in time for the General Assembly (GA) of the Jewish Federations of North America's Annual Conference. This Conference takes place in Israel every five years and is hosted in the U.S. in between. The point is to bring issues and trends forward for the leadership and staff of Jewish Federations. There were 3,500 people in attendance which is the largest Israeli GA ever.
The Conference was fun, in that I ran into people who I have known for years. I went to sessions on the economic disparity in Israel which affirmed the fragile situation of Arab Israelis and Haredim (the religious). The focus of this was on education and that the most critical path to decreasing the poverty in the country was through education.
The second session I went to was on Shared Society. What used to be known as co-existence has been reshaped into a discourse on a Shared Society understanding that just co-existing is not really enough, that to really have a strong society there needs to be respectful interaction and joint efforts. I was able to connect with several people on programs that might be of interest to our Grants committee so it was particularly helpful.
By far, the most meaningful experience at the GA for me was the session with Israeli President Shimon Peres. I was so honored to be in his presence. At 90 he is spry and as sharp as a tack. He expressed his hopes and dreams for the country while reflecting on his personal experiences. His story mirrors that of the founding of the state. He is truly extraordinary. I was particularly moved by his statement, "Judaism is not a business, it is a moral vision.."
On Tuesday, we were taken on an incredible tour of Jerusalem. Starting at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, we proceeded then to the Western Wall in the Old City. The religious fervor of the women (and the men) was something to behold. It was very special to be there and to literally feel how the stones had been loved smooth over the years. Since I had been in Israel more archeological digging around the wall had been completed and we were able to walk under the wall to see the walls of the 2nd Temple. It was truly an archeological feat.
From the old tunnel it was on to the footsteps of the Via Dolorosa, or the Stations of the Cross, following the last steps of Jesus to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was so very proud of our group as each and every one of the Jewish members wanted to make sure that this experience was as meaningful as possible for the non-Jewish members of the group. It was really special for the group as a whole to experience both the Wall and this Church on the same day. As we left the church, the Muslims were being called to prayer. It brought home in a very special way how this amazing city is home to the three major religions.
The church is owned by a Muslim family who has owned it since the 1100's and who has passed it down from generation to generation. The Church has three parts to it, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian. They each pay the family to maintain their presence in the church.
The next day it was on the share the Israel Museum, the most spectacular exhibit being that of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dating back some 2,000 years, these scrolls were found by Bedoin inside caves in the West Bank around 1947. Seeing ancient scrolls that are identical to our torah scrolls just gives one chills.
While most of the group spent the afternoon packing and shopping, Rick and I joined our buddies Susan and Jordan for a trek to Bethlehem. It was a little hairy going through the checkpoints but once we were through, we felt totally safe and enjoyed viewing the city and environs.
After a morning visit to Yad L'Yad (Hand to Hand), an incredible Arab and Israeli public school, Rick and I did our best to invest in the local economy. We went from Mahane Yehuda, an open air market, down Ben Yehuda street and then back to the Old City. There were many highlights of the day- 1) Visiting places I remembered; 2) chatting with people in Hebrew; 3) seeing the variety of people and art and buildings; 4) Enjoying the humor of life; and 5) Rick being offered not just once, but twice, to buy me for 500 camels - as "She is in very good condition."
Leaving the Galilee we headed towards Tel Aviv and pulled in to the brand new Royal Beach Tel Aviv. This hotel is an absolute hoot. It is so modern you really feel as if the Jetsons are going to walk in the door and Rosie the Robot is going to come help you with your ironing. Aside from the fact that you couldn't get out of the chairs once you got in, and that the walls opened up with hidey away cabinets so you couldn't remember where you put what, it was really nice. Oh well except for the shower head.. which once turned on acts like a run away hose and floods the bathroom.. and the color scheme which is cool shades of grey and black making you feel like you are visiting a very expensive prison. Hey I don't have to like everything!!! It was fun staying there and I'm sure youngin's will love it as it is very trendy and cool.. and as we all know I've never been cool a day in my life.
The food was a totally different thing. The hotel's food was delicious and I just loved their cucumber salad. Is that a work of art or what! So since we are on food.. we took a Taste of Israel Tour of Tel Aviv. It was really something- we walked through the streets of Tel Aviv stopping at little shops to taste spices, fruit, new sodas, olives and turkey. The colors and sounds and smells of the city were too amazing for words.
Ok, so you know how there are moments in life that just hit you between the eyes or touch your heart? Here we are wending our way through these tiny streets, crammed with humanity and food and garbage and I see a young Israeli soldier, firearm at his side, walking in to a mini-mart during our tour. He strides into the store absentmindedly kissing the Mezuzah on the door. He wasn't religious, no kippah, and yet it was automatic.
My other moment wandering the streets was seeing a bored street vendor (nobody knows how to look bored like an Israeli street vendor) and he sees an elderly man getting into a cab. He rushes over, helps him get into the cab and then resumes his bored position.
That evening we went to Nagalat, a restaurant that is totally in the dark and where the waiters are blind. They make you put your cell phones and even watches in a lock box during dinner. We were led into a world of darkness, where we had to be led to our chairs and coached on how to pour a glass of water and how to eat. It was an extraordinary experience, not knowing if you were going to taste anything on your fork when you put it in your mouth as you didn't really know if you stabbed any food, learning how to pour water with your finger as a measure so you wouldn't spill. The experience was a gift and we have heightened appreciation for those without sight.
The Serious Stuff
Friday morning, November 8th, we started off with a briefing by Aluf Benn, the Editor in Chief of Ha'aretz, Israel's premier newspaper. The entire group sat there spellbound. I have rarely heard such an amazing presentation. I certainly can not rearticuate what Aluf said, but can share with you my take aways.
He started speaking about Prime Minister Netanyahu. He said that his strengths lie in his ability to project calmness and control. The economy is strong, the shekel is strong and the country is going from strength to strength. He said his weaknesses revolve around the West Bank and Gaza and that he waffles and isn't consistent from one period to the next. He also said that Netanyahu is in a tough position as his coalition party is delicate and he doesn't want to anger the different factions within his own party which might lead to destabilizing the government. Gee.. this sounds familiar doesn't it? Exactly what's going on in the States.
He said that the issue of peace is of much more of a priority to Americans and American Jews than it is to Israelis. They would like peace but it just isn't in their range of expectations any longer. They talk about the latest dialogues for a few minutes and then turn to issues that affect their daily lives.
So what are Israelis concerned with? The two top issues of concern are the economy and the Haredim (the religious community).
The economy is doing very well, but there are still great divides between those with good incomes and those with with minimal wages. One of the ironic unintended consequences of overseas support for Israel is that Americans and other wealthy Jews from around the world come and buy apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, driving up the prices so that it is hard for locals to afford in town homes. The cost of housing is competitive with the more expensive cities in the States.
The issue with the Haredim is complicated. Aluf spoke at length about it and then we went to visit a job training program sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or the Joint) where we had a chance to sit with three young Haredi men. I apologize in advance for misinterpreting the situation, if I have.
Side note- All Israeli youth are required to serve in the army, however to date the Haredim have been exempt from serving. Those that do, are given non-combat service, which is sort of like a domestic peace corps. Whereas such programs in the states are run out of non-profits or non-military departments of the government in the US, here in Israel they are run as part of the army.
The Haredim, the religious families, in Israel tend to have large families, 8-10 kids, and their world revolves around family and study of the Torah. They receive a stipend from the government to support this study. The problem is that the stipend can not adequately support the family and there is increasing resentment from non-Haredi Israelis that they are subsidizing the living of those who don't work and who won't serve in the army.
The Haredim want to preserve the old ways and feel that if they interact with secular Jews that they might lose their young people through temptation or that their Judaism might somehow be watered down.
There are those, however, who do not want to live in poverty and who want a better life for their children. The critical problem is that the education that the Haredim receive is not competitive in the Israeli market place as they are not taught English, math and science. There are now efforts afoot to create learning environments where this can be provided for Haredi youth. This is very controversial. Indeed, the three young men we met with disagreed among themselves as to what the best path is.
There are now young Haredi men who do serve in non-combat units in the army, who leave home in the morning and return at night with no one knowing that during the day they are switching out their black coats for an IDF uniform. This provides them pathways to not only skill development but to better jobs on completion of army service.
The whole situation is extraordinary. I can't help but wish that the Haredim would view working within the mainstream of society as an opportunity to share their experiences and bring others closer to Judaism. Separation only creates more separation.
From current days to ancient times.. I leave you with photos from our visit to Petra, Jordan!
I have such magical memories of Tsfat that I was a little nervous when we set out. I remember wandering the streets and truly feeling connected to the great rabbinic sages. It is just as beautiful and magical. It certainly has been built up and is now an artists colony but you can still feel the raging debates that went on among our great scholars. Rav Joseph Caro was one such scholar and his synagogue still stands. You can just imagine what it must have been like to study here the technicalities of different points of law.
We wandered the streets and met with Vared Olney, an artist who was helped to open her gallery in Tsfat through her connection to Tucson. And of course ended up purchasing a piece of art at a nearby gallery.
Next, it was on to explore more of the Northern Galilee. Old friend, Natan Golan, who was the Israeli rep for the San Francisco Jewish Federation when I was the planning director, was our speaker. He brought us to Ma'alot Tarshiha, a joint Jewish-Arab development town. This is an incredible place where Arab and Jewish children attend school together, play sports and have joint activities. The relationship between the communities works incredibly well.
I had been worried that when we came to Israel it would be all modern and that the pioneer spirit that founded the country would be lost. That just couldn't be further from the truth. Over the past numerous days we have visited a number of border towns and communities. You would think that living so near danger would have people moving away from the border, and yet that is just not the case. It is their contribution to the security of the Jewish state.. it is their way of saying we are here and not going anywhere. They have decorated the bomb shelters and developed strategies for the quickest route to the shelters. They sing and play games. The pioneer spirit is alive and well.
Afterward we headed to Hadera to meet with Ethiopian kids in a program that has been developed to help them catch up. It is a terrific program and the kids who participate in the program end up doing well on their exams, going far in the army and getting into college.
I admit our presenters have all been drinking from the same cup of wine. To hear them you would think that Israel is heaven on earth. They admit that there are problems but minimize them in their passion for the country. The problems here are many. The conflicts with Palestinians and Arab neighbors are very real with extremists on both sides being unwilling to bend. Poverty is a problem. The socio-economic gap between generational Israelis and new immigrants is wide. Beside new high rises are crumbling buildings that were thrown up in the 50's to house refugees from the Holocaust. Arguments between the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews goes around and around.
And yet, I feel totally at home and love this country more than ever. Seeing a secular Israeli soldier walking into a store and automatically kissing the mezuzah; watching as a bored street vendor drops everything to help an elderly religious man into a cab; you just can't help but feeling part of the fabric of the country. I caught a cab at one point and the cab driver and I had an entire conversation in Hebrew, with him helping me every step of the way. I thanked him profusely and he said, "Ah, we are Jewish, we're family. When are you moving here?"
There is just something so consistently magical about Israel. I love it here.
After an enjoyable Shabbat exploring the Galilee, Rick and I were scooped up early Sunday morning by Tzachi Levy, the coordinator of the TiPS Partnership Program, which stands for Tucson, Phoenix and Seattle - we got top billing cause we are so cool (not really - PiTS or SPiT just didn't sound right). Adi Shacham, the Youth Coordinator for the Partnership joined us along the way.
Our Partner communities are Kiryat Milachi and Hof Ashkelon. These are poor communities that are heavily dominated by immigrants primarily from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The idea for the partnership came from the Jewish Agency seven to eight years ago with the idea being that twinning cities would not only help the local communities but it would also help strengthen the tie to Israel for Jews living abroad.
There are two components to the program- one is supporting local needs, the partnership's priorities being healthy youth activities and leadership development. The second aspect is helping to strengthen Jewish identity and continuity through reverse programming. This has resulted in school twinning, speakers and community visits.
We were taken on a whirlwind two days, meeting both individuals that are involved with the partnership as well as representatives from our grantees outside the partnership.
The partnership works with the local municipalities, non-profits and community leaders. On Sunday we met with representatives from the Kiryat Milachi Jewish Community Center, the Municipality liaison, the KM Senior Center, a community advocacy center, a parents/children center and a community factory that employs individuals with special needs.
All of these programs were amazing, but the highlights of the day were having lunch with Ethiopian social worker, Zahava Baruch (for whom we have provided program support for many years) and meeting with the Acharai program soldiers.
Zahava has the magic touch, knowing how to work with families in a culturally sensitive way. Her work has made a dramatic difference in the lives of many families. It was wonderful being able to connect Dvora with Zehava, who had never previously met - at which point a wonderful discussion ensued about the need for additional training of other social workers serving the Ethiopian community there.
The Acharai program works with youth who have challenges to help them with homework, activities, and getting good jobs within the Israeli Army (which is compulsory for ALL youth graduating from high school). We met with a number of soldiers who had benefited from the program and who are now counselors. Their enthusiasm was infectious!
We were delighted to then be hosted by a local family at a nearby Moshav. Their home was lovely and we were spoiled terribly! Asher is retired from the army and working as a regional manager of their version of Target and Sari works assessing the needs of children with disabilities. Their children and Asher's sister lives right on the Moshav so they have frequent visits.
Monday hit us between the eyes and right in the heart. We started the day visiting Yad Mordechai, a kibbutz that pre-dates the founding of Israel. It is a beautiful kibbutz just a few miles from the Gaza strip. From Yad Mordechai we went to a Moshav, Netiv L'Shalom, that is right on the border with Gaza. We met with Roni Keidar who has lived on the Moshav with her husband for many years. Every Wednesday, Roni goes to the border and picks up residents of Gaza who need specialized doctors visits in Israel. She takes them, stays with them and then drives them back to the border. When air raids hit, she and her friends frantically text each other to make sure they are ok.. on each side of the wall.
She has turned her passion into action by hosting conferences of those living in Israel and Gaza to try and find peaceful solutions and movement in their situation. Getting participants from Gaza is no easy feat as each individual hoping to cross into Israel needs two approvals from Gaza and one from Israel. She hopes to sponsor a conference this February on the impact of the stress of the living situation on the children on both sides of the wall.
We ended our time with our partners at the Netiv L'Shalom mosaic, a tribute to peace and understanding that all who visit can participate in by placing mosaic pieces on the wall. For all of you wonderful folks who have given me money to donate in Israel, this is where the funds went- to help support this project.
Rick and I were both so moved by the experience, by the efforts and challenges facing small immigrant communities in a rapidly changing country, by the passion that Israelis have for one another and their progress, by the warm generosity that we were shown by our host family and how very comfortable we felt, by how honored we were to hear of the wonderful work that is being done with Tucson support and mainly by the extraordinary spirit of hope that those we met have. These are not people who are giving up on their dreams for themselves, their country or for their neighbors.
After a morning agency briefing (those interested can read below) Rick and I headed to Jaffa for a visit with ancient and new.
How do I explain wandering through history? We wandered through ancient streets, the bustling market place, elegant shops, old monasteries, a church that took care of Napoleon's troops, the wishing bridge, spectacular views and waterfront cafes.
Hebrew. Arabic and English abounded. Kafiyas next to prayer shawls. Menorahs next to shmatas. An excavation site dating from Byzantine times housed a modern jewelry store. A metamorphosis is occurring. As dilapidated turns into trendy condos; forgotten buildings turn into sidewalk cafes.
And yet, one can't help wonder about the hidden and not so hidden past and present. War torn Israeli flags greet visitors on approach to old Jaffa, and signs for Palestine hang from shops. An old synagogue appears near trendy clothes and chess players arguing in Arabic.
Rick and I stopped at one of the waterfront restaurants for lunch.. "The Old Man and the Sea" restaurant. Upon sitting down our tables filled with salads and pita. It was a fairly trendy restaurant- and packed.. with Arabic spoken more than Hebrew and yet not an Arabic menu in sight.
Such a contradiction of sights and tastes and smells and sounds. I find myself hoping that the burgeoning economy there will bring a joint spirit. I didn't feel it though. It just seemed as if parallel communities were sharing the same space, rich with history and spirit and yet so separate.
I'm still optimistic though.. cause throughout I felt so at home with it all and so very hopeful.
Across the Healing Divide
This past year the Foundation went through an extensive strategic planning effort for its grants program. The result was a shift to a grants impact model whereby we identify particular areas for funding where we can have strategic impact. One of my charges in coming to Israel is to explore potential projects for funding.
Last year, we received 66 grant proposals, 36 of which were from Israel, most for programs addressing at risk youth. Little Tucson, alone, is just not going to be able to make a dent. So I'm approaching my visit with two lenses... 1) What is happening in our sister cities of Hof Ashkelon and Kiryat Milachi- where they do rely greatly on our funds and 2) What can we fund that will strengthen the country as a whole. Security in the region is paramount and there is no better way to enhance that security (in my humble opinion) than to enhance the relationship between Arabs and Israelis.
Having worked in the field of community relations for some 15 years I'm fairly opinionated on programs that work and those that don't (shocking I know).. so I'm very anti-dialogue where you sit around and talk at each other and similarly anti- paternalistic programs where one group is helped by the other and "should feel appreciative".. and very pro working together on issues of common concern where you get to know and care about each other along the way.
I bring this up as we met with representatives this morning from one such group - Healing Across the Divides. This is a group that was founded 7-8 years ago by a US doctor, Norbert Goldfield. The board is comprised of Arab and Israeli and American Jewish doctors who seek to enhance health care access in Israel. They, along with the Cleveland Jewish Federation support programs that work on community based health collaboratively with similar programs. So there are Israeli/Bedoin programs; Arab/Israeli programs etc.. that seek to, again, improve healthcare. The groups work together, share resources, problem solve and provide service.
The coordinator of the project is Peter Levy. He brought with him Maya Ohana from 1 in 9.. who provides educational programming to increase breast cancer testing. She is working with both Arabs and Israelis with special work with Orthodox women. Orthodox women have a higher rate of breast cancer as they don't discuss either breasts or cancer, don't do self-examinations and are too busy seeing to their families to get to the doctor.
The Cleveland Jewish Federation is a lead partner with Healing Across the Divide and provides a 2/3 match to a 1/3 match. Peter is anxious to expand the number of partners they have as it leverages dollars, brings expanded expertise and enhances the educational understanding of both those involved in the program as well as the funders.
This is just one of the many groups that I'll be meeting with, but I'll admit to being fairly blown away by the program- especially when Peter raised the prospect of identifying a collaborative for funding in our sister cities. Thank you Steve Sim for the introduction!