JCRC UPDATE | November 22, 2013
[by Matt Goldberg, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council]
This past month, I had a wonderful opportunity to spend 10 days in Israel as part of the Bernard Rodkin Fellowship award that I received from the Jewish Communal Service Association (I am very appreciative of my colleagues here in Louisville who supported me in this unique trip).
I have not had the privilege of being in Israel since 1995, and this trip was unique. I got to travel with other Jewish professionals and we saw areas and projects off the beaten path. I now know from first-hand experience that Israel is a most amazing and complex country.
While most of my time was spent in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I saw Israel’s (and the Jewish community’s) attempt to reach out to the periphery of society.
In Tel Aviv, I met a woman who started her own NGO that helps women who had been forced into prostitution reclaim their lives and learn different job skills. Also, I went to the Hiriya recycling park where, on the site of the former Tel Aviv city dump, there is a recycling and education center.
In Ramle, I saw a project of the Jewish Agency that helps disadvantaged kids learn computer skills that they can use as an advantage in pursuing careers in high tech. In Elad, I saw a program of the Joint Distribution Committee that helps Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) learn job skills and helps them join the workforce, and in Sakhnin (an Arab village), I saw an environmental project and education center that tries to break down some of the barriers to Arab-Jewish co-existence.
I saw the finest of Israeli Society (a medical technology company that developed a camera the size of a pill that you swallow that replaces the need for an invasive colonoscopy), and I saw parts of Israeli society facing major obstacles. (In South Tel Aviv, many parks are filled with undocumented immigrants who do not speak the language and cannot work legally.)
Israel is a fantastic country, I encourage everyone, Jewish or not, to spend time there.
The General Assembly
I also had the privilege of attending the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, an annual gathering of Jewish Community professionals and volunteers, which was held in Jerusalem this year.
The highlights of this event were the talks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke almost exclusively about Iran and the threat posed by their nuclear program, and the President spoke on a variety of subjects, most notably, what are the prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
It was very heartwarming to see so many Jews from all across North America make the trip to Jerusalem for this event, great to see the commitment that the Jewish community still has for the state of Israel.