Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Israel with some of my fellow Jewish Federation CEOs from around the country through a JFNA-sponsored mission trip. It was a whirlwind trip with so many amazing things packed into each day.
Here are just some of the highlights:
We attended a high-level security briefing on geopolitical concerns and realities with Major General Eitan Dangot, who spoke about issues regarding Hezbollah, Russia, and Egypt, and turning tactics into strategy in relation to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the opportunity we must give to peace negotiations. This was followed by a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we were briefed about the consul general programs and discussed the differences between European and American anti-Semitism.
I had a surprise meet up with Michal Barkai Brody from ALMA on our first day in Israel as we walked through the Orthodox area of the Shuk. The Jewish Federation funded this pre-military academy for female leadership this year, and it was great to see Michal and catch up on all the great things ALMA is doing to empower women and develop their self-esteem.
Dinner the first night was spent with numerous NGO representatives, “speed dating” to learn about work they are doing in Israel. I had the pleasure of learning from Dana Shaked who runs a gap-year program for at-risk young adults called Merkaz Ma’ase. I also had an in-depth conversation with Nir Brunstein, who left his career in investment banking to work for Krembo Wings, a special needs program in 56 places throughout Israel. Nir’s oldest daughter has special needs, and Krembo Wings brings typical children (teens) together with those with special needs for four hours a day. Each Krembo facility has Jewish, Arab, and Bedouin children. They are doing incredible work and Nir had me in tears at least twice.
We went to the Hand in Hand (Yad b’Yad) school in Jerusalem, which is an Arab-Jewish school that goes from preschool through 12th grade. The school is incredible and there are five others in Israel. Each classroom has both an Arab and Jewish teacher for all studies. Everything is taught in both Arabic and Hebrew. We met with the CEO and principal, as well as two seniors. The theory behind the school is that ignorance leads to violence. The school “agrees to disagree” and teaches all of history from the Arab and Jewish perspectives. They do not focus on building consensus, but instead provide a safe environment for ideas to be shared and relationships formed.
We had the opportunity to meet with an incredible young Bedouin philanthropist, Ibrahim Nasara, and spoke with numerous teenagers who are taking part in the Tamar Center for Excellence in Scientific Education in the Bedouin community. The program encourages education and employment for youth, which is a perfect mission as 66 percent of the Bedouin community is under the age of 21.
We met with MK Yair Lapid, who spoke to us about the opportunities that exist with Israel with a new American administration. He hopes for a unified government to create positive change in an ever-changing political climate.
We spent time at JDC offices discussing high-level, confidential information regarding JDC’s budget and some turmoil they will be facing. We did a case study similar to our “allocations game,” which provided much discussion. Then we met with at-risk Israeli youth–two Arab students, one Ethiopian, and one Jewish teen.
The Federation’s largest allocation is given to Israel and overseas. This trip provided insights to our funding, as well as new ideas to potentially increase funding. The JFNA CEOs spent much time discussing how we fund and what we fund, and I am hopeful as we determine future engagement and opportunities with our Israeli partners.