|Nahariya’s Mayor Jacky Sebag visited with kindergarteners at The Moriah School in Englewood on Monday as part of a three-day visit to North Jersey. Josh Lipowsky|
The northern New Jersey Jewish community’s seven-year partnership with the Israeli city of Nahariya – which has led to exchanges of security officers, first-responders, and teachers – got a little more personal this week during a three-day visit to the area by Nahariya’s mayor, Jacky Sebag.
UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and Nahariya joined together in 2003 under the federation system’s Partnership 2000 program, which pairs Israeli cities with American federations for cultural exchanges focused on education, medicine, and community. To strengthen that relationship, Sebag spent Sunday and Monday touring Jewish day schools and congregational schools, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, and the area’s Jewish community centers. He headed home on Tuesday.
“The person-to-person connection is always important,” said Ted Greenwood, chair of UJA-NNJ’s Partnership 2000 committee. “In the last few years the mayor has not been as involved as he and we think he should have been.”
UJA-NNJ’s partnership is not with the city of Nahariya but rather with the people of Nahariya, Greenwood said. This was Sebag’s first opportunity to meet the people of North Jersey on their turf.
“We now have much stronger personal connections,” Greenwood said. “The whole thing is based on personal connections.”
While many Israelis consider themselves secular, Orthodoxy is the predominant stream of Judaism in the country. Part of Sebag’s visit was to see how the pluralism of the Jewish community here and how the different streams interact, said Stuart Levy, UJA-NNJ’s Israel shaliach.
Sebag began his visit with a trip to the YJCC of Bergen County in Washington Township to learn about the Kehillah Partnership, a communal resource-sharing program, followed by a visit to the Hebrew school of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge.
“This was our opportunity to show him, in a country where there’s a separation between state and religion, how the Jewish community looks after the Jewish community,” Levy said, “and really give him an understanding of the broad breadth and depth of where the Jewish community touches the lives of each and every Jew in the community.”
Monday began with a visit to Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, where Sebag saw how the students use SmartBoard technology, which is just starting to make its way into Nahariya’s schools. Students showed off their Hebrew and sang songs for the mayor, which helped reinforce for the children the ideas behind the partnership, said Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, the school’s principal.
“It made [the partnership] more real for the students,” she said. “And to actually meet the mayor of a city made [the children] feel they were much more important. It was more than just writing letters and sending gifts back and forth. It made [the partnership] more tangible. They felt very honored to be visited by the mayor.”
Sebag also sat in during morning services at Gerrard Berman, which helped the mayor see non-Orthodox Jewish practices, Bernhardt said.
“He’s learning about the different denominations, so he saw an egalitarian service, which I’m not sure he’s seen before, with girls and boys being the chazzanim and reading from the Torah,” Bernhardt said.
Each year the eighth-grade class at Gerrard Berman visits Nahariya during its annual Israel trip. Bernhardt is hopeful that the school will be able to arrange a meeting with the mayor during the spring trip.
From Gerrard Berman Sebag headed to The Moriah School in Englewood.
“There was tremendous excitement anticipating his arrival,” said principal Elliot Prager, who watched as students greeted the mayor Monday morning by singing Hatikvah.
Sebag went on to watch a fifth-grade class taught by a teacher in Yerucham, Israel, via video link.
The video conferencing, which began last year, is a way of “[bringing] Israel into their lives,” Prager said. “This is much more of a genuine encounter as opposed to just teaching about Israel.”
Soon, video link-up equipment similar to Moriah’s will be installed in Nahariya’s city hall, where children from the city’s schools will be able to hold interactive sessions with children from Moriah. The goal, according to Prager, is to have children in Nahariya and northern New Jersey get to know one another
“Until now there was not a lot of interaction between kids,” Prager said. “We want to strengthen that.”
The visit should have happened sooner, Sebag told The Jewish Standard through a translator on Tuesday. The connections between the two communities have been strengthened because of it, he added.
“We got the opportunity to finally start meeting one another,” he said. “It shows the connections between the municipality of Nahariya and Partnership 2000. Each side is looking for new ways to connect.”
While here, the mayor urged the leaders of the partnership to evaluate the seven-year relationship between Nahariya and UJA-NNJ to see how it can be improved. He praised the North Jersey Jewish community’s sensitivity, good will, and willingness to help, and particularly the warm welcomes he received throughout the trip.
UJA-NNJ overseas allocations already go to several projects in Nahariya, such as Gesher, a Jewish-identity building program for 11th-graders, and Sebag suggested that the federation consider funding a new safe house for at-risk girls in the city. The mayor will submit a request for funding to the UJA-NNJ overseas committee – and the program will be considered because of its connection to Nahariya, Levy said.
“We are going back with the impression that the Partnership 2000 as well as the federation [relationship] are going to continue with new programs for the benefit of both of our communities,” Sebag said.
He said he hopes to return the hospitality that North Jersey showed him.
“We expect our friends in northern New Jersey to see Nahariya as their second home,” he added.
Josh Lipowsky can be reached at Josh@jewishmediagroup.com.