Passionate about Israel

by Sara Wagner
Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer. Jewish Community of Louisville

I cannot remember exactly when I fell in love with Israel. It was cumulative rather than one transformational moment.
Perhaps it was understanding that we cannot take Israel for granted, or landing in Israel after spending a week in Poland feeling the weight of making a trip on behalf of millions of souls who only dreamt of the journey.

Perhaps it was the last night of a family mission on a balcony in Jerusalem as parents reflected on the gift they had given their children.

Or maybe it was returning to Israel after the war with Lebanon wondering how our solidarity mission would make a difference, then having that moment when it became clear. We spent two hours with a group of young soldiers who shared their terrifying experience in Lebanon, finally bringing us to tears as they shared how much it meant to have a group of American Jews travel across the ocean to hear their stories.

I embrace our role as a JCC and Federation helping our community fall in love with Israel, too. Perhaps we do not say it out loud often enough but we are committed to offering more Israel experiences.

We realize that not everyone will make it to Israel, so we continue to bring people and programs to Louisville through Partnership 2Gether.

For 19 years Partnership has provided the vehicle to build relationships and friendships with the people of the Western Galilee. We bring Israelis to Louisville and send Louisvillians to Israel to connect through arts, cultural, education, medicine, twinning projects and more.

A few weeks ago Jon Klein, cochair of Partnership 2Gether, and I attended the Partnership Steering Committee meeting in the Western Galilee. Working side by side with our other North American consortium and Israeli partners to create people-to-people relationships is our goal. There will be many opportunities for the Louisville community to participate. In fact, this spring, March 15-17, we will host the next Partnership Steering Committee meeting.

Infusing Israel in daily life at the JCC is also an important part of our mission. This summer we are fortunate to have a shlicha, Israel emissary, Dafi Chen, working at our summer camp. Dafi has brought her passion and love for Israel to our campers and staff.

Her experience in the states took on new meaning beginning two weeks ago with the loss of three Israeli teenage boys kidnapped and killed. Far from home, Dafi joined the local community to remember the young victims.

After learning that she was called up for reserve duty, Dafi had a choice to make: return to Israel and serve with her IDF unit or remain in Louisville to continue to teach and bring our campers together to support children in Israel. She chose to remain here, and, with her guidance, our campers created activities and games to send to Israeli children whose summer camp programs were canceled, and out of concern for their safety, are confined to bomb shelters. (See Dafi’s story.)

On Sunday, June 20, as the community gathered together on the front steps of the JCC to show solidarity with Israel, Dafi, our adopted Lousivillian, received word that a friend was among the IDF soldiers killed in Gaza. The shock and grief were palpable as was the strength she drew from the 200 people who gathered to share prayers and songs. (See rally story.)

Dafi chose to address the group even in this most painful moment. This is what community is about, standing side by side to support those we know and those we may never know connected by amcha (peoplehood).

We each have our own unique experiences that make us feel connected to the Jewish life and the Jewish people. As we pray for a peace and mourn the precious lives lost, I hope many more people will consider joining the JCC and Federation this year through Partnership, traveling to Israel, hosting Israelis and learning together.

If you would like to find out more, please contact me at or 238-2719.

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