by Kathy Karr
Editor’s Note: The Partnership with Israel program (originally Partnership 2000) is a Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) initiative that matches communities in Israel with groups of Jewish communities in the United States.
Louisville, which joined the partnership at its inception in 1998, is one of 16 Jewish communities in the Central Area Consortium paired with Israel’s Western Galilee region, a strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea.
The Partnership offers many opportunities for people on both sides of the ocean to work together in the fields of medicine, arts, education, culture and business. Many individuals have formed very personal relationships with our Israeli partners and Kathy Karr is among them. This is her story.
My first trip to Israel was in the summer of 2005. Rabbi Stanley Miles led the Temple Shalom trip for first timers. I knew the trip would be fun and educational but what I did not expect was that the trip would change the direction and focus of my life forever.
As a Jew by choice, I did not expect to feel connected to the land of Israel. In preparing for the trip, many of my fellow travelers were looking forward to arriving at the Tel Aviv airport and immediately feeling as if they had arrived “home.” I was actually jealous of hearing them talk, as I thought this was not going to happen to me! Of course, I felt completely Jewish but since I did not have Jewish blood, I thought there was no possibility of being connected to the earth in this tiny country in the Middle East. But, from the moment I got off the plane in Tel Aviv and looked out the vast windows at the airport to the surrounding hills, and felt the hot, golden sun bake on my face, I had the sense that yes, I too, had arrived “home.”
During our 10-day tour, I felt connected not only to the gorgeous country and ancient sites, but to the Israeli people we met along the way. And indeed, when we returned to Louisville, I felt homesick for Israel and sad thinking that it would be years before I would ever return.
Then in the summer of 2006, ketushas were fired from Lebanon attacking the Western Galilee, damaging sections of the Western Galilee Hospital, killing and wounding hundreds of Israeli citizens and destroying homes and lives.
Shortly after the war ended, our Louisville Jewish Federation (now the Jewish Community of Louisville) announced a mission to our Partnership region in the Western Galilee to help clean up and provide medical care. I was determined to travel with this mission to help repair lives traumatized by the war.
Many on this trip were doctors and engineers. I am a flutist – not qualified to save lives or repair buildings! Yet I felt driven to do my part to help repair the damage caused by the terrorist attacks. I thought that if I played my flute for soldiers, children and families who suffered so much during the war, perhaps I could entertain them and for a short time distract them from the horrors of the war.
During the week I spent in our Partnership region, the remarkable and talented Efrat Srebro arranged for me to play my flute for all of the kindergarten children in Akko. As Efrat drove me from one kindergarten to another, she talked about how her family coped during the war, showed me the parts of Akko that had been destroyed by ketushas, how Arabs and Jews lived peacefully together in Akko and how the war had affected this delicate relationship.
Efrat explained how influential our Partnership with the Western Galilee is and how respected our community is to this region.
I met all of Akko’s kindergarten teachers and students who enthusiastically welcomed me to their classrooms. And, I met a kindergarten boy whose father and uncle were killed by a ketusha. At the end of the day, it occurred to me that they had done more to influence my life than I did to theirs. I was hooked! I was in love with the people and our Partnership region.
I returned from the mission determined to work for our Partnership. Today, I am honored to serve as the Partnership chair for Louisville. Our JCL board is also committed to support our Partnership with the Western Galilee program.
Partnership’s mission is to promote mutually beneficial endeavors between the people of the Central Area Consortium and the Western Galilee forging relationships through programs that build Jewish identity and strengthen ties and connections among and between 15 U.S. communities through cultural, educational, social, medical and economic programs.
Partnership is an inclusive, active network of people focused on the mutual exchange of ideas and programs with the goal of developing relationships to strengthen our global Jewish identity. Through six task forces (Arts, Education, Missions and Marketing, Medical, Re-gional Development and Budapest Con-nections) community members are agents of change and create stronger bonds between the people in our communities.
Recently, one of our many Partnership-supported programs, the Central Area Consortium’s TriWizard Teen project, received the “Partnership Award of Excellence” presented at the 4th Annual Partnership 2000 Conference in Jerusalem! This program brings together Israeli Jewish and Arab high school students from the Akko area to interact with American high school students to learn about each other’s cultures and views on major issues.
A group of 10 young wizards (five Jewish and five Arab Israeli teens) visited Louisville two years ago and met with local teens at the Muhammad Ali Center. Ali heard about the TriWizard project and was so impressed he even made a personal appearance at the event.
The Central Area Consortium offers a number of other opportunities for individuals living in member communities – including those of us in Louisville – to forge a connection with our Partnership region in Israel. For instance, several Louisvillians have become artists in residence and volunteered to help decorate schools and community centers.
Each summer, teens from the Western Galilee travel to our community through the Kefiada program and spend several weeks bringing Israel culture and history to children attending camp at the Jewish Community Center. This summer Liat Kazir, Danielle Elbaz, Yuval Monka and their chaperone, Yael Ben Yaakov, spent three weeks at the JCL’s summer camp at the JCC. Today is their last day.
Our Consortium also has a very active Emergency Response Group (ERG) headed by Louisville physician Philip Rosenbloom. The program involves sending doctors from the Central Area Consortium to Israel to spend a week at the Western Galiliee Hospital in Nahariya learning how to manage mass casualty situations. In addition to their training, physicians develop personal relationships with the hospital’s professional staff.
Over the past 10 years, there have been several medical exchanges where physicians from Israel have come to the U.S. for specialty training and vice versa. A new program has begun involving Israeli doctors coming to Consortium-member communities to conduct mass casualty training here.
Over the past several years, I have returned to our Partnership region four additional times to play my flute for more kindergarten classes, perform recitals and lead master classes in Akko, Tel Aviv and kibbutzim, and to represent Louisville in the Partnership steering committee meetings. And, I am planning more trips to our Partnership region to further connect with my friends and colleagues in the Western Galilee region.
I would like to think I am making a difference to the people of the Western Galilee by performing my flute, but in reality, they make a difference to me by strengthening my Jewish identity.
Harold Gernsbacher, the Chairperson of the Central Area Consortium, says it all – “Once we were a people without a home, today, we cannot become a home without a people.”
There’s a place for you in our Partnership, too. Just contact me, one of our Partnership Committee members, or 451-8840, to explore the possibilities.
Members of the Partnership with Israel Committee are: Rabbi David Ariel-Joel; Dr. Karen Bloom; Dr. Steve Bloom; Dr. Shellie Branson; Dr. Britt Brockman; Paula Brockman; Ed Cohen; Ellen Goldwin; Dr. Richard Goldwin; Dr. Ralph Green; David Kaplan; Elizabeth Kaplan; Matthew Karr; David Klein; Cantor David Lipp; Andrea Melendez; Mauricio Melendez; Rabbi Laura Metzger; Sheilah Miles, Rabbi Stanley Miles; Keiron O’Connell; Paula O’Connell; Marci Perelmuter; Dr. Mark Perelmuter; Ellen Rosenbloom; Dr. Philip Rosenbloom; Martha Rosenblum; Paul Rosenblum; Dafna Schurr; Jane Shapiro; Steven Shapiro; Stu Silberman; Heather Yaron and Lior Yaron.