This is OUR Israel

By Marcy Paul
Participant in the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County Leadership Program 2014-15

My first trip to Israel was in 1974. I remember two things vividly. The first was stepping off the plane, descending the stairs, and feeling my feet touch the tarmac…I was in Israel. The second moment was being part of the first group, through the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, to be confirmed at the Kotel.  Most of my confirmation class from Beth Emet in Evanston, Illinois were together with our Rabbi, David Polish (z”l).  We couldn’t stand near the western wall as we were both boys and girls together so we stood in the back.  Even back then I felt this to be unfair.  This is OUR Israel.

I returned in 1976 to study at the University of Haifa. Two vivid memories from then. First, taking an Israeli literature class with the famous Israeli author A. B. Yehosuha. I was in awe of this man’s brilliance with the written word. I remember someone asking him why there was no fictional literature about the Holocaust and he replied, “We are still too close to that time.  Wait twenty years and you will see the change.”  My second vivid memory was spending Yom Kippur with family who lived in Moshav, Neve Ilan. Right before sundown as the day of Atonement was ending, everyone went outside… and from the hills and valleys, towns, and cities, all over we could hear silence…until the sound of shofars were heard…not one or two… but hundreds from every direction.    This is OUR Israel.

What I didn’t realize in 1974 or 1976 was how young and new the State of Israel was. I didn't think about the lack of highways, the barren land, and all the dirt roads. I didn't comprehend this until a few weeks ago. The opportunity that I had through the “YOUNG” Federation Leadership Program introduced me many new people I now call family.  The Leadership program has changed the course of the rest of my career and at 57 that’s pushing a lot into the next however many years. Alyson shared about the leadership program and the trip to Israel.  Hopefully you read the article in the Texas Jewish Post that included the beautiful detailed poem by Yael Sasley and a wonderful snippet from Stephanie Zavala’s blog. I want to tell you about the partnerships that our Fort Worth Federation has in the beautiful Western Galilee.  Some of you are already aware of these partnerships.  I HAD NO IDEA!

 Our trip was so carefully planned. Not a lot of shopping but very intentional planning of meetings and visits to not only highlight an entire country in 10 days but also to see both the beauty and pain of such a small, powerful, and spiritual country.  Our country. 

Alyson wanted me to mention one itinerary meeting. On the day after elections, we had a two-hour sit-down meeting with two prominent writers for the Jerusalem Post, Mr. Gil Hoffman, a Jewish Israeli (from Chicago) and Abu Toameh, an Arab Israeli. I mention their identities because 1) we appreciated hearing from both sides about the political environment and 2) to re-affirm the need to be critical consumers of the media.  We need to continue to ask ourselves what information we are getting, what we are not getting, and who sets the agenda for news and who is the gatekeeper?  Mr. Toameh spoke about his work with NBC and how it ended after years of producing stories regarding the Israel/Palestinian crisis.  When he called NBC about covering a conflict within Palestine, he was asked, “is Israel involved?” and when he replied, “no”, he was told the story won’t be covered.  He was fired a few days later.

Now to the Partnerships. I am learning about the allocation of funds and the support that Tarrant County gives to specific programs in the Western Galilee. My challenge to all of us in the next year is how to get more involved in these partnerships, YES with financial support and YES with using our skill sets and own expertise in a variety of ways. 

The Jewish Federation along with The Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and other international programs, monitors, assesses, and is involved with many social service and educational programs developed to support and empower Israel and world Jewry.  On our trip we had the opportunity to visit with many people involved with our partnership, PARTNERSHIP2GETHER -  the Jewish Agency and twelve U.S. communities also represented by the North American Jewish Federations.  We visited programs that we currently support and are interested in a more hands-on partnership!  This, for me and my cohort, was a highlight of our trip!

Using Yael’s poem and following her timeline here’s what we did, what we learned, and I challenge all of us to collectively put our Tarrant County heads together to think about our next steps! (And, if I get something wrong, Bob or one of my new “BESTIES” can chime in, please!). 

As you know the Western Galilee, up North, sits in a very vulnerable place bordering Lebanon and Syria.  The itinerary was planned to visit some of the PARTNERSHIP2GETHER sites and share meals with Jewish Agency staff and members of the partnership organizations so that we could engage in deeper discussions.

First, we visited the Matte Asher Security Center that uses a surveillance system to guard all the schools in the Western Galilee. This system was not supported to be built by the government but financially made possible with funds received through PARTNERSHIP2GETHER. This center keeps all the children safe in their schools. Our federation’s name is on the building along with the others in our partnership.

 Next, our tour guide, Shachar, made arrangements for us to visit a children’s village in his own community.  We don’t think about Jewish children coming from broken homes, in poverty, troubled lives, but yes, they do.  This incredible village is their home, they live in houses with other children, have house parents, chores, go to school, and when it comes to their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, there are hundreds of other children and adults there to support and love them.  An amazing village that opens it’s Shul to the surrounding community to participate. The day we were visiting the boys in one house had received a donation of new sheets for their beds. The sheet sets were still wrapped in plastic and as the boys pulled them out of the box, the smiles on their faces were not to be forgotten!  When was the last time we opened a new set of sheets and felt as if a gift from God was just received? A reminder about the gifts that we have.

We also visited an alternative high school for teens that have been dismissed from their schools for a variety of reasons.  Again, we think…a Jewish kid not wanting education, a Jewish kid being in trouble?  A myriad of reasons why these beautiful teens have slipped through the cracks.

 This school offers them a chance to learn and also to develop a business skill in one of three areas, Jewelry design, cosmetology, or mechanics. The benefits that these teens receive by learning a skill gives them hope for their future. As one teen we met shared: “I never thought I was good at designing jewelry, now after I finish army training, I’m going to design jewelry.”  She sees a future for herself. A reminder about the gifts that we have.

Another PARTNERSHIP2GETHER experience we had was at the Western Galilee Medical Center. This growing hospital serves all in the Western Galilee including patients brought in from Syria. An amazing and painful part about this hospital is that they have built a second full service hospital underground to facilitate crisis times. They also have a “Friendly Room” for victims of sexual abuse that offers wrap around services so that a victim retains their dignity while getting help. Kim Goldberg and other artists from around the U.S. are involved in creating mosaics to adorn the hospital walls and involving those that work at the hospital to be a part of the finished work. 

Mrs. Aya Kipershlak, Director of the Department of International Affairs for the Western Galilee Medical Center had dinner with us the night before the visit and met us at the hospital to provide the tour.  I am very excited as she and I have already shared two emails, beginning to think of ways that we can begin a partnership. I work at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, which as you, know has a medical school, pharmacy school and my affiliation is with the School of Public Health. Perhaps this is my career calling as I facilitate this partnership for our Federation and the medical center.  This is OUR Israel.   

Our leadership group and all of us can get involved in so many different ways…locally…and globally.  I had no idea of the very specific relationships that we have with Israel and Bob has brought those back for all of us…for that I am grateful!

Can you tell I loved being a part of this leadership group? I had Alyson in my Confirmation class when I taught at Ahavath Sholom. Little did I know that many years later I would call her one of my dearest people in my life! 

Each night when we retired, Diane, my roommate, and I would hash through the day, sharing the experience and mostly laughing more than either of us have laughed in a lifetime! 

This experience brought us much tears, laughter, and intense self-reflection of who we are as Jews, as Americans, as Zionists, and as a people with a responsibility and commitment to Tikun O’lam. I wanted my son Isaac to be here tonight to hear our presentation. He just finished his confirmation speech about his Jewish identity and also his incredibly strong commitment to Israel and Zionism! Oy! Such Nachas I get! He sits with his good friend Bryce Kleinman and there are other young folks here.  Listen…You are our future…you are the young Jewish Zionists of today and tomorrow. Israel is still young…

Do not be afraid, be as strong as the Sabras who built the land of Israel for themselves and for you! This is OUR Israel.  Todah Rabbah.