August 23, 2021

Global Connections Visit to Israel: August 2021

By Allison Nagelberg, Director of Global Connections NJ

The saying that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” perfectly captures the synergies in Global Connections (GC). As I experienced firsthand in Israel a few weeks ago, Global Connections involves far more than its dozens of individual project allocations. GC encompasses a rich tapestry of interwoven projects and partnerships which have wide-ranging impact in terms of engagement, education, community building, and fundraising. Former President Rivlin’s concept of the five “tribes” of Israel is truly at the heart of GC’s work, inspiring us to empower and unify diverse communities within Israeli society and build living bridges between Israelis and GMWesterners.

Each of our five partner communities in Israel has its own personality and we support projects with their specific needs in mind:

  • In Ofakim/Merchavim some of our standout projects are the ISHA Center — supporting and connecting women of all generations — and the Igloo Arts Center, where beautiful homegrown works of art with slogans of “HOPE” and “PEACE” grace the walls.
  • In Arad, we visited the first-rate Music Conservatory that we support, and we also met with entrepreneurs who benefit from the business accelerator that we fund, and a team promoting tourism in this desert region; I can’t wait to share the promotional video for Arad!
  • Rishon LeZion — in particular, the Ramat Eliyahu region — has been our partner since the 1970s. While this area is no longer comprised of predominantly Ethiopian immigrants, there remains a significant segment of society that continues to depend on our assistance at the Community Center and helping children-at-risk and children with autism.
  • Kibbutz Erez on the Gaza border is a wonder of natural beauty and kibbutznik energy and determination. We have supported countless security projects there as well as community development efforts.
  • My visit was too short to include a meeting with our fifth and perhaps most unique community partner in Israel — the Druze community of Hurfeish where, among other things, we support youth-at-risk. Our GMW commitment to a strong multicultural society in Israel is integral to who we are and is evident in so many of our projects.

We visited the Hinam Center for Social Tolerance, an award-winning center in Abu Ghosh promoting tolerance between people from all different backgrounds (Haredi, secular, Arab, Druze, Ethiopian, and more). In addition to its study center and conference center, Hinam facilitates person-to-person encounters that enable people from very diverse backgrounds to live together in each other’s communities. We met with Hagar, which is the only bilingual school in the Negev and fosters positive relationships between Arabs and Jews. We met with the Tamar School, promoting educational excellence and access in the Bedouin community. We spoke with the co-founder of SAHI, a pioneering project that changes the lives of youth-at-risk by enabling them to participate in solving the problem of food insecurity in their neighborhoods.

We met with BINA and Israel Hofsheet, both of which support Jewish pluralism in Israel – one with an emphasis on learning and one which stresses governmental change and access. We connected with Youth Futures, a fantastic nationwide organization that brings preventative intervention and mentorship to young children in our own GMW partner communities and elsewhere. We spoke with our Diller coordinator in Israel; this program connects teens in our partner community of Rishon LeZion with teens in GMW for a year-long leadership and Jewish identity-building exchange program. Not all Federations include Diller Teen Fellows in their programming, and most do not include it under the Israel & Overseas umbrella, but we find extra benefits in bringing these special teens under our wing.

With more than 70 lay leaders and numerous committees, GC builds living bridges by working on projects directly with our counterpart committees in our partner communities: running together, celebrating together, empowering groups of high school girls on both sides of the ocean, deciding on allocations together, and more. Our culminating BBQ with the leaders of the Arad Steering Committee was both a fabulous feast and an incomparable evening of bonding fostered by Greater MetroWest. Our signature Peoplehood Project adult exchange program develops deep connections between lay leaders in NJ and Israel.  Many of the directors of our projects in Israel are Peoplehood graduates; some of them are selected to participate in our pioneering Leaders for Cohesive Society project, where adults from diverse backgrounds meet together with facilitators to learn about and discuss important societal issues.

We met with our Core Partners, JAFI (the Jewish Agency for Israel) and JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), where our longstanding support for projects in Israel and in the Diaspora is widely respected.  We had planning sessions with our fantastic Israeli staff, who are warm, hard-working and thoroughly committed to the work that we do together. When our GC team happened upon a boisterous musical celebration in the streets of Arad – as sometimes happens in Israel – we spontaneously started dancing with each other! I had dinner with Tamar Reshef – our new Senior Shlicha – shortly before she and her family left for NJ. Our community is lucky to have such a smart, dynamic, down-to-earth Israeli leader, who will be joined by Adir Assulin, another wonderful and talented Community Shaliach, and five Rishonim (also known as Shinshinim) who will bring their Israeli energy to GMW.  Greater MetroWest is also unique among Federations in supporting such a robust cohort of Israeli emissaries, which is not a small feat.

Some Israelis who have been Rishonim later become Diller Teen Fellow coordinators or otherwise participate in our projects, such as supervising our Kehila — hundreds of young people from GMW who are living in Israel as Lone Soldiers, students, Diller alumni, former Rishonim, and former counselors at our Family Camp in Cherkassy, which is our partner community in Ukraine. Waiters in restaurants recognize us as Greater MetroWest and tell stories of the multiple roles they have had in our community that changed their lives. Everywhere we travelled we saw plaques highlighting the generous donations of members of our GMW community. Greater MetroWest’s commitment to the State of Israel can be seen up and down the country.  We continue to do so much to make an impact on Israeli society, to bring our NJ and Israeli communities closer together and to ensure that an abiding love of Israel lives in our community. We have so much to be proud of!  I am grateful to have had this experience and I am incredibly excited to be a part of this important work.