November 25, 2008
I just returned from Israel as part of a large delegation from MetroWest participating in the International Lion of Judah conference in Tel Aviv, UJA Major Gifts mission, and General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities in Jerusalem. Future blogs will deal with meaningful dedications of new initiatives and projects. This blog will highlight the observance of a major anniversary.
30th Anniversary Celebration with Mayors, Past Presidents of UJC of MetroWest, Current President, Gary Aidekman and Executive Vice President, Max Kleinman.
Thirty years ago, MetroWest responded to Prime Minister Begin’s call for Diaspora communities to adopt Israeli neighborhoods and help renew them through capital improvements and social service programs that would upgrade the character and social capital of these neighborhoods. Project “Renewal” was in response to the over one million North African Jews who were hastily brought to Israel as they left hostile regimes in the aftermath of the establishment of the State of Israel. Much of the housing that was built to accommodate them was sub-standard, and this population did not have the resources to compete with the rest of Israeli society.
Our renewal effort, in the neighborhood of Ramat Eliyahu in the City of Rishon LeZion, fourth largest in Israel, has been a major success. MetroWest’s major operating partner is the Matnas, or Community Center, one of the leading educational and social service centers in the State of Israel serving an extraordinarily heterogeneous population. In addition to Project Renewal, we have worked with this city in integrating olim from Cherkassy, our sister city in the Ukraine, Argentineans, and Ethiopians. Our latest project, Atzmaut, endowed in memory of Paul Nadler, is a model program of Ethiopian integration, pioneered by JDC, which has been transplanted to over a dozen other cities in Israel.
As a result of Project Renewal and the city’s efforts, the neighborhood of Ramat Eliyahu is indistinguishable from other middle-class neighborhoods in Rishon LeZion.
Along with these efforts, we have established significant social service and educational programs in Ofakim/Merchavim, our Partnership 2000 community in the Negev, special security upgrades and a medical clinic for Kibbutz Erez, literally on the Israel side of the Gaza Strip, and similar efforts for Gush Etzion. In Ra’anana, we partnered with them on the direct absorption of over 1,000 Russian families, and the city is now a laboratory for Religious Pluralism projects, funded by UJC MetroWest. Our most recent partner, Hurfesh, is a Druze village of 5,000, where we have helped fund enhanced security and a unique exchange program with the Matnas in Ramat Eliyahu.
Mayors in Israel are very powerful, more so than their American peers. There are no states or county governmental layers. Accordingly, mayors act almost like governors to protect their turf and advocate vigorously for greater funding from the Israeli government and various ministries. It was therefore remarkable that mayors from all our different partner communities traveled to Ramat Elihu, in some cases across distances of over three hours, to participate in our 30th anniversary celebration of partnership with Rishon LeZion. Outgoing Mayor Nitzan, with 25 years of service, commended MetroWest’s role in developing these six different partnerships and asked all of them to follow Rishon LeZion’s long-term strategic partnership with MetroWest.
I say with great pride that MetroWest was the hub, and our six partnership communities were the spokes in expanding the possibilities of partnerships with a Diaspora community and with each other, irrespective of geographic location or continents. Menachem Begin’s dream lives on.