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!
Tracy Salkowitz is a Consultant,activist and the former CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.