‘Partners’ bridge the Israel-diaspora distance

‘Partners’ bridge the Israel-diaspora distance

We call it Partnership ‘000," said Stanley Goodman, a co-chair of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Partnership ‘000 committee. "We’re about long-term connections between Jews in Israel and Jews in the diaspora." Goodman was one of more than 150 people — some from as far away as South Africa — at the second annual Partnership ‘000 Conference, held over the weekend at a Newark area hotel. The 1’-year-old program has been fostered by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to create closer connections between diaspora communities and communities in Israel.

From left, Dr. Bernard Hammer, chair of the UJA-NNJ Partnership ‘000 Community Task Force, Naomi Ifhar, Israel Connection coordinator at the JCC on the Palisades, and Dr. Norman Loberant, Israeli chair of UJA-NNJ’s Partnership ‘000 Medical Task Force. Photo courtesy of UJA-NNJ

"It used to be the relationship was one way," said Raya Strauss, Israeli co-chair of the Partnership ‘000 subcommittee and a member of the JAFI Board of Governors. "Americans came to Israel to help. Now it’s very different," said Strauss, who is also the Israeli chair of UJA-NNJ’s Partnership ‘000 committee. "Israel has as much to offer to Jews in the diaspora as the diaspora has to offer us. We learn from each other."

According to JAFI chair Zeev Bielski, the partnerships have become the most important catalyst of people-to-people relationships between Israelis and world Jewry over the last 1′ years of Partnership ‘000’s existence. To date, 45 areas in Israel are partnering with communities — many centered in Jewish federations — in North America and worldwide. Many of the programs are youth-to-youth and involve pairings of schools and teachers. UJA-NNJ has developed a pairing between the Metropolitan Schechter High School in Teaneck and the Amal School in Nahariya, UJA-NNJ’s partner city. Other kinds of partnerships have included artist exchanges, medical personnel cross-training, and first responder interactions.

For UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, in its partnership with Eilat and the surrounding community of Eilot, the issue was the economy, which is driven by tourism. Seventy percent of the population — many of whom are highly skilled — work in that industry. At the conference, that federation’s Partnership ‘000 co-chairs, Morland Brown and Brian Schachter, spoke about how they strategized with their Israeli counterparts in Eilat and came up with a plan to attract a wider range of businesses to this southern Israeli city. Working together, the partnership was able to convince Ben-Gurion University to open a campus there, a coup for the community.

The Rochester, N.Y., Jewish Community-Modi’in partnership created a "Journey for Identity," in which high school students from Israel travel to Rochester to experience life in the diaspora. The Israeli and American teens then travel together to Poland and finish with a week in Israel. For these teens this is a profound experience, meant to foster those lasting people-to-people connections that are at the core of Partnership ‘000.

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, which is paired with Kiryat-Gat-Lachish-Shafir, three towns at the edge of the northern Negev, saw teaching teens on each side of the ocean about philanthropy as a way of passing on responsibility of the future of the Jewish people. According to Andrea Lavin Solow, Partnership ‘000 co-chair at the Chicago federation, the exchange was a positive one. "Fourteen kids from Israel came to the states and learned about [philanthropy] and how to work by consensus." A further benefit of the program entailed observant teens traveling to Chicago and meeting with non-observant kids. "Stereotypes got broken down," said Solow. "The goal was for these kids, raised differently, to understand each other."

Many at the conference said that interest in the partnership model continues to grow and flourish. "I heard passion today," said Strauss. "Partnership ‘000 is the most important project going on in the Jewish world today because no other program connects Israel and America the same way."

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