By Carolyn Katwan
P2G Chair - Lehigh Valley
Our community’s relationship with Israel has always been important.
For many years, we participated in Project Renewal, a Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) program that matched Diaspora communities with Israeli cities, with an emphasis on helping with brick and mortar projects. We were matched with Ma’alot, a city in the north of Israel, where the Lehigh Valley Jewish community proudly helped to build the Murray Goodman ORT High School in Ma’alot.
As the year 2000 approached, JAFI replaced Project Renewal with a new initiative, Partnership 2000 (later rebranded Partnership2Gether or P2G), focused on creating a living bridge between Diaspora and Israeli communities through projects that connected people in both communities. Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley opted into P2G nearly 15 years ago, establishing a partnership with the Yoav Regional Council. The program is funded by a portion of the Federation’s annual campaign dollars that is allocated for Israel and overseas.
The direction of the partnership and its priorities are shaped by volunteer steering committees in our respective communities. Together, we recommend programs and determine which projects will be funded. The decision process is a result of joint meetings. Most years, those meetings take place digitally – lots of email communication and phone calls, culminating with a budget discussion and project approval on a joint video conference.
As chair of the Lehigh Valley steering committee (and the former Federation staff person with the partnership portfolio for its first 10 years), what I most look forward to is when we hold joint steering committee meetings face to face – in Yoav or by hosting the Yoav committee members here in the Lehigh Valley.
This year, our meetings took place in the Yoav region in early June. The business agenda of the meetings was a review of last year’s projects and a budget discussion of projects for the coming year. But the real substance – the heart of our joint meetings – results in strengthening our relationship through the personal interactions – getting to really know each other. It is reminiscent of sitting around the fire at summer camp, having deep conversations with people you really like. We end up talking about … everything, from personal stories to sharing our dreams. Through these conversations, we come to better understand ourselves and each other, our priorities, and our shared interests and concerns.
The Lehigh Valley Steering Committee was represented in Yoav by me, Alan Salinger and Aaron Gorodzinsky, Federation’s partnership coordinator. The meetings – both formal and informal – lasted three days and we packed a lot into those days … and nights. Each of us enjoyed home hospitality; discussions started in formal meetings rolled over into informal discussions in our host homes.
The formal meetings opened with a presentation by a young Israeli man who started on a journey to meet other Israelis of all stripes all across his own country … secular and observant Jews, in cities, in settlements and in kibbutzim, new olim, Druze, Bedouin, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims. This mosaic is the real face of Israel today. His simple message: face your fears. By talking to people, he was able to let go of many of his pre-conceived notions about “the other.” Poignant and thought-provoking, it was the perfect conversation starter for a discussion about Jewish identity.
Our three days were filled with site visits to see some of the programs funded by the partnership. We attended a music program near Tsafit High School. With our help, they have established a music center for adults and youth. We met the four teens from Yoav who were selected (from an applicant pool of nearly 60 students) as the madrichim (counselors) who are now in the Lehigh Valley volunteering at Camp JCC. We met with teachers in Yoav who are working all year with Lehigh Valley students at synagogue schools and the Jewish Day School. We visited Ofakim, another community that has a partnership with Greater MetroWest in New Jersey, to learn about projects they have initiated. We visited the Intel facility where we had our 2017-18 budget discussion, via a telephone conference, enabling other Lehigh Valley committee members and Federation Executive Director Mark L. Goldstein to participate.
Although the meetings lasted only three days, I enjoyed a nearly three-week stay in Israel. I also got to see our partnership at work – meeting with Israel Next Dor mission participants in Yoav, attending a community Shavuot celebration in Revadim, and representing our community at an evening of “Songs for Danny” with Matti Caps at Bet Guvrin on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.
Every time I return to Yoav, it is familiar – reconnecting with friends who have become family – and at the same time new ... new people, new experiences. For me, our partnership – our special relationship with Yoav and with Israel – represents my Jewish identity.
We invite you to become part of the partnership experience and connect with Israel in a truly personal way. To get involved, contact Aaron Gorodzinsky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-821-5500.