November 4, 2020

Introducing the “Big 5” of Federation’s Global Connections Arm

Amir Shacham Associate Executive Vice President, Global Connections
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ

While it may sound like a vague, nostalgic memory from the pre-pandemic world, “back in the day” we used to travel overseas for vacations. Some of the most attractive destinations, at least for Israelis, were safari trips in Africa.

The main attraction of a safari is to watch the wild animals in their natural habitat. The local guides always set a highly ambitious goal on the first day: “If we are lucky enough,” they would dramatically state, “understanding the lay of the land and keeping an optimistic spirit, we will be able to see the Big 5.” (The “Big 5” are the five royal animals of Africa: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and cape buffalo.)

And in a miraculous way, by the end of each safari trip, this ambitious goal is usually met. The “Big 5” are spotted and will live forever in the lucky traveler’s photo albums.

Why do I tell you all this? Because Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, through its Global Connections arm, has set similar ambitious goals. We developed our own “Big 5” Initiative at the onset of and in response to COVID-19. Like the safari guides say, “with some luck, understanding the lay of the land, and lots of optimistic spirit” we will be successful.

Our “Big 5” are:

1. Partnerships Network Model
2. Kehila
3. Rishonim Chai
4. Uniper
5. Leaders for Cohesive Society

In each of the next editions of Access I will describe one of the five in detail. Today I’ll focus on the Partnerships Network Model.

You may know by now that our Federation maintains a network of partnership communities in Israel and Ukraine. Some of you may have even visited one or more of them: Arad, Ofakim- Merchavim, Ramat Eliyahu, Erez, Cherkassy, and Hurfeish. Each of these communities is a member of our Partnership Network.

So why is this on our “Big 5” list? Because we just experienced a milestone moment. After a long process, we signed a strategic agreement with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to formally adopt this platform. The formal recognition makes this a nationally renowned and recognized model. And I’m proud to announce that our very own Michal Zur will be directing the Network.

We are the only Federation to be partnered with more than one region. Together, our partner communities vividly reflect the diversity of the Israeli society and the Diaspora Jewish world, creating for us a microcosm of the Israeli society. Our Partnership Network allows us to develop “living bridges” and people-to-people intimate relationships.

Never in the history of Israel Diaspora relationships has there been a formal partnership for a Jewish Federation and a Jewish agency with a non-Jewish community in Israel. Through our unique relationship with the Druze village of Hurfeish, we are the pioneers in doing so. Our Partnerships Network also includes a non-Israeli community, Cherkassy, a small Jewish community in Ukraine. Implementing our Partnership Network model embodies a fulfillment of our vision for a pluralistic, cohesive shared society for Israel and Diaspora Jews.

And yes, last but not least, this milestone moment allows us to do more with less. By merging the Federation and JAFI on-the-ground professional teams and combining our offices, we are saving resources and are better able to serve all of our partnerships.

So, this is a silver lining that arose from COVID-19 as part of our grand response plan. Over time, this formal model will allow us to keep the global connections alive in spite of the fact that we are physically disconnected. Our overseas family members are now equal to the NJ local family members. And because everything is online, geographical borders and physical locations are less critical. Ultimately it will enhance our ability to follow through on our values of arvut hadadit (mutual responsibility) and Jewish peoplehood. You should all take great pride.