I'm back! I have so many stories from this trip. The purpose of the UJC Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission is to visit the work our partners at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel do on the ground in Israel, and we did just that. And quickly – we were only gone for five days. As one woman on the mission put it, "This was five days and one night!" That's pretty much how we all felt, but every visit was so valuable and we were all so intent on taking in everything so we could bring it home, we didn't care. (And I did get to the Western Wall and the new Mamilla Mall on Thursday afternoon, so there was a little tourism involved, too!)
We traveled to Acco and Haifa in the north, and Ofakim (our MetroWest Partnership 2000 community) and Beersheva in the south. These areas are known as "the periphery" and home to some of the most socio-economically at-risk populations in Israel. What struck me in both the north and the south was how both JDC and JAFI's programs in these distressed areas include both Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis. This is crucial, as Israel seeks to raise the economic well-being of all its citizens. We met two women from Acco, Wafa and Claudia, both of whom are participants in a JDC-sponsored program called STRIVE that provides basic job skills training and coaching. The pride and self-confidence that shone from both of their faces was striking and heart-warming. Sitting together, we were an Arab Israeli woman, a Jewish Israeli woman, and 18 North American Jewish women, brought together by a program that originated in Harlem as a way of improving the lives of African Americans. As they say, only in Israel!