June 13, 2024

A Delegation from Israel We Will Never Forget

Martín Yafé Global Connections Director

There is only one thing that can be remotely comparable to the sense of fulfillment and Jewish unity one feels when landing at Ben Gurion Airport as part of a mission or program. And that is welcoming a delegation of Israeli volunteers who are leaving their families behind, in the middle of a war, to strengthen their communities’ connection with ours.  

Last week we welcomed a group of 15 Israelis who came to Greater MetroWest as part of a delegation comprised of leaders from our partner communities in Arad, Ofakim/Merchavim, and Kibbutz Erez. The goals of this mission were for them to get a better understanding of our communal landscape and organizations, to meet our lay leaders and Federation professionals, and to meet together in preparation for what will surely be a very intense 2024/25. 

As part of their experience, they were hosted by members of our Greater MetroWest community who generously opened their doors, families, and hearts. They started as strangers but very quickly become an integral part of their extended family.  

Other parts of their journey included joining our Federation’s cohort of about 700 people – plus an additional 60,000 – in marching at the Israel Day on 5th in New York City; learning about the history of our Federation; receiving briefings on the local impact of antisemitism; visiting some of our schools, JCCs, and synagogues; visiting the Nova Music Festival exhibit; and so much more. 

There are two moments that I wish to highlight that I think illustrate the power of this visit. 

The first one was the main reason they came: a three-hour meeting with their American counterparts to discuss strategies and priorities for our joint NJ-Israel-world Jewry programs (which we call Living Bridges). In these three hours of hard yet important discussions we covered the merits and strategies of living bridges programs and the very essence of our work as a collective. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next few years, our strongest programming yet evolved from this extremely productive meeting. 

The second one was much less formal and completely unplanned at a visit to Newark’s brand-new police academy where we met with some senior officers who had been part of exchange programs with Israeli police counterparts. The first surprise came when we realized that the Captain of the Academy, a special forces officer, had been a guest at the house of one of our Israeli delegates whose husband is also a police officer in Ofakim. Then, this captain generously offered to drive some of the delegates to their next engagement – a private reception a half hour away – when one of the Ubers we hired never showed up. On the drive, the captain and his police officer wife connected so strongly with the Israelis that they were invited to join us at the reception. So, we were 15 Israelis, a few Federation professionals, 50 lay leaders… and two incredibly generous police officers mingling, eating, and sharing stories with one another.  

If anything became clear to all of us during their visit, it’s that connecting with people who understand us has become, especially after October 7, an almost physiological need. We seek spaces where can we be our true Jewish and Zionists selves without having to hide our thoughts or our stars of David. Our sense of relief when we find ourselves in a room full of people that allow that to happen is as strong as it has ever been. Whether it be American Jewish lay leaders, host families, or police officers in love with Israel, the Israeli delegates felt a real connection while they were here; the very same connection we felt towards them. 

We collectively agreed that investing in programs that connect world Jewry with Israel, our “living bridges,” should be a strategic priority and key area of investment for our Federation for the next few years. Intentionally or by accident, the power of these connections was in full display all of last week because, as it became clear, we need them more than ever; they keep us connected; and they make us stronger as individuals and as a people.  

If you are interested in learning more about our Federation’s Living Brides programs, feel free to contact me. Peoplehood, our flagship living bridges program, is currently accepting applications for next year. 

Am Israel Chai and may all the hostages come back home immediately.