Partnership with Israel Visitors Tell about Opportunities to Get Involved

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Since 1997, the Jewish Community of Louisville (JCL) and its predecessor organizations have been nurturing a special connection among a consortium of 16 Jewish communities in the Midwestern United States and the Western Galilee through the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).

On Monday, April 26, three Partnership representatives, JAFI Partnership Director Li-at Cohen, Central Area Consortium Representative Beth Zuriel, both from Israel, and Central Area Consortium Partnership Co-Chair Harold Gernsbacher from Dallas, TX, came to Louisville to encourage our community to become more active in Partnership programs. They met with several people during the day and that evening spoke at the JCL Board meeting.

“This is our bar mitzvah year,” Gernsbacher told the Board, and the Consortium has accomplished a great deal.


Gernsbacher visited the Western Galilee Hospital (WGH) during the Lebanon War in 2006 and observed the medical staff tending casualties in the emergency room. When he asked what they needed, they replied a new emergency room. The price tag? Twelve million dollars.

Undaunted, Gernsbacher started to work and raised half a million dollars from Consortium communities, including Louisville. Over time, the price grew to $48 million, but Gernsbacher was able to leverage the Consortium seed money to secure money for the entire project, the final portion coming from the Shoah Foundation as WGH provides care for many elderly survivors.

The new emergency room was built underground, complementing WGH’s other underground facilities that offer the hospital the ability to move all operations into secure areas that can withstand conventional, chemical and biological attacks in time of war.

Assistance for WGH and a variety of medical exchange programs, including the mass casualty ERG training program, represent just a portion of Partnership’s activities.

Gernsbacher also spoke with pride about a Consortium initiative that originated in Dallas connected with birthright israel. The highly regarded birthright israel program offers a free trip to israel to young adults, but the program is so popular, 60 percent of applicants are turned away for lack of space.

Dallas put together a birthright trip that ensures all 22-26 year olds from Consortium communities will be accepted. Applications for this summer’s trip were accepted in February. Gernsbacher indicated that this continue as an annual program.

In an earlier interview with Community, Cohen explained that Partnership is active in six major areas: arts, Budapest, education, marketing, medicine and regional development.

The Budapest connection is the newest addition to Partnership programming. The Jewish community in Budapest, Hungary, has joined the Central Area Consortium communities and the Western Galilee region, making the Partnership experience a three way relationship.

One of the first joint programs is the Tri-Teen Summer Program for 15 to 18 year olds to run July 9-August 1. Consortium teens from Israel, Hungary and the U.S. will spend 10 days in Jerusalem and the Western Galilee and two weeks in Budapest and the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) Jewish Camp in Szarvas.

There are still a few spots open, Cohen said.

In the arts, there have been many exchanges, she explained. Kibbutz contemporary dance companies have toured Consortium communities in the U.S. Musicians like Louisville’s Partnership Chair Kathy Karr have come to Israel to perform and teach. There have also been artists in residence and lots of educational programs that serve students from kindergarten through college.

A brand new early childhood resource web site, Hava NaGila Gan, which can be found at, enables educators in all Partnership communities to share resources related to Jewish holidays and Efrat Srebo’s Music That Counts program. In 2007, Srebo came to Louisville and taught local teachers how to use her Music That Counts techniques.

Cohen said the Partnership also offers twinning programs for sharing stories like the one The Temple Preschool participated in. Children in Israel wrote half the story and children here wrote the other half. The two parts and their accompanying illustrations were put together into a colorful professionally bound book.

The Kefiada program brings Israeli teens to summer camps in Consortium communities and college students from both the U.S. and Hungary to Israel to work with Israeli campers in Acco.
“I believe in Partnership’s mission” of bringing people together and building connections, Cohen said.  “I welcome everyone to join us.”

“We’re here in Louisville today to see what we can do to help Louisville increase its engagement in Partnership,” Zuriel added. “Partnership has developed a lot of opportunities, and we want to make sure Louisville takes advantage of all the ways to connect to Israel and the Western Galilee.”
The Western Galilee is located along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and extends to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

The Midwestern Consortium includes Akron, Canton, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown, OH; Indianapolis, Northwest Indiana, and South Bend, IN; Louisville; Des Moines, IA; Omaha, NE; and Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth and Tarrant County, San Antonio and Waco, TX. The Western Galilee includes Akko, Western Galilee Hospital and the Matte Asher region.

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 Alan Engel at the Jewish Community of Louisville, 451-8840 or

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