Mission to Western Galilee Strengthens Connection for Four Louisvillians

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Whenever members of the Louisville Jewish community participate in Partnership with Israel activities, they get excited about the connections they make with their counterparts in the Western Galilee; and when they talk about their experiences, their enthusiasm is contagious.

So when Jewish Community of Louisville Board Chair David Klein, JCL’s Partnership with Israel Chair Kathy Karr, and Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Stanley Miles and President-Elect Judy Sharp met with Community to discuss their recent visit to our Western Galilee Partnership region, it was not surprising that were eager to share highlights of their trip earlier this month and ready to bring others with the next time they go.

Sharp explained that she had visited Israel in June as a tourist, but she found this trip much more meaningful. “I was making Jewish connections with the people … understanding that their way of life was my way of life, that their Shabbat dinner was the same as mine. … It was worshiping with them – not as an observer, but as a participant in a service – and they embraced us.”

The group spent two Shabbatot in Israel. Karr explained that they spent the first Shabbat in Jerusalem where they worshiped at Ko Haneshama, and the second Shabbat at Temple Shalom’s sister congregation in Nahariya, Emet v’Shalom.

Although the service was entirely in Hebrew, the group’s host, Sharon Mann, made sure they had English prayer books so those who were not fluent in Hebrew could follow along. Mann pointed out the dedication in the book, and Karr explained, it was dedicated to the 20-year-old son of the family the group was going to share dinner with. The reason the family had joined Emet v’Shalom was so they would have a place to say Kaddish.

The group did not stay together for the entire trip. The principal flutist for the Louisville Orchestra, Karr, has made many trips to the Western Galilee and always plays at least one concert and performs at schools while she is there, so she had to spend some time in rehearsals.

Klein, who received a life saving bone marrow transplant from Elchonon Reizes, found that his “brother” was also in Israel, so he traveled to Jerusalem to meet “tata and mama, Elie’s grandparents – my grandparents.” (The story of Klein and Reizes, first printed in Community on March 12, 2010, is available online here.)

The family is very observant, so, Klein explained, “I met two aunts and uncles and they embraced me, but mama didn’t hug me at first. Then tata said, ‘he’s blood’” so it was OK.

Rabbi Miles and Sharp stayed in the Western Galilee and went to a local food bank. “We filled 120 boxes,” Sharp said proudly. The food bank “serves Arab families as well as Jewish families. They don’t care what you are. They make sandwiches for kids in school. If they’re hungry, they’re fed.”

While the group identified many commonalities in lifestyle and practice, Karr was struck by one significant difference. The group was in Israel when five members of the Fogel family, including three children, were brutally murdered in Itamar. When classes resumed on Sunday (Israeli schools are closed on Friday and Saturday for Shabbat), Karr was in school with them and found, “They don’t hide horrific events from their children. The children were all there waving flags, talking about it and singing about it.”

There is a realization among Israelis that they could be the next victims of terrorism, so they talk with their children about it, Karr discovered, even 5-year-old kindergarteners.

The group found great diversity among Israelis, from Orthodox to Humanistic, to secular to Arabs, but they were all there as a country doing the same things. Most businesses were closed for Shabbat. Everyone helped with projects like the food bank.

For Klein, that was the message that summed up the trip. “It doesn’t matter what synagogue they go to or what level of faith they have or if they’re a Jewish or Arab Israeli or whatever. They find a way to coexist and work toward common ends.” For example, in fighting hunger, “they support each other.

“It’s a great lesson to bring back home,” he continued. “That’s what my goal through the Jewish Community of Louisville is – to help build community and be a convener, not a dictator. I want to help bring the community together.”

On Shabbat, Klein said, people should find their own spiritual grounding and “seek out where they need to go, but during the week … we’ve got find a way to come together” and to engage more people in the community.

In looking for ways to engage more people, Klein hopes to start more collaborative programs that pair classes in Louisville with comparable classes in the Western Galilee so they can make connections throughout their years in school.

Rabbi Miles, who has been to Israel many times, also felt a very strong connection this time with the Western Galilee. “Our visit was framed from Rosh Hanikra to Cabri,” he said, “and I felt I was walking in the footsteps of Abraham. Most tours never get north of Haifa, but there is a wealth of sites in the north. When I do our next trip for our congregation, we probably won’t go south of Tel Aviv” so the participants can spend more time connecting with our Partnership.

Karr, Klein, Sharp and Rabbi Miles shared many more observations from their trip, but the enthusiasm they brought back to Louisville overshadowed the specifics. They are looking forward to strengthening some of their connections further when some visitors from the Western Galilee stop in Louisville.

Partnership with Israel, a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), is designed to foster individual relationships between Israelis and American Jews. The Louisville Jewish community has been an active participant in the program since its inception in 1997.

Louisville is part of the Central Area Consortium that is partnered with the Western Galilee region of Israel. The Western Galilee is located along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and extends to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Representatives from other consortium communities participated in this mission.

Through Partnership programs, Louisville has benefited from numerous exchanges in medicine, art, music, education and business. The program is flexible, so if a Louisvillian has a specific interest he/she would like to pursue with counterparts in the Western Galilee, it is often possible to develop a suitable program.

Partnership with Israel receives support from the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Annual Campaign.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Louisville’s Partnership Chair Kathy Karr, or Sara Wagner at the Jewish Community of Louisville, 451-8840 or swagner@jewishlouisville.org.

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