Last week, I took part in a Jewish Federations of North America Leadership Solidarity Mission to Israel along with Carolyn Gitlin, our Federation’s Chair of the Board and the National Women’s Philanthropy Chair, and Jill Dulitsky, our incoming Women’s Philanthropy Chair. Our first order of business was a security briefing with retired Major General Giora Eiland, who opened with the old but apt joke that if he had to summarize the situation in Israel today in one word, he would say “good.” If he could summarize it in two words, he would say “not good.”
We are all too aware of the “not good” news. Despite a world-leading vaccination rate, Israelis have suffered tremendously because of COVID. In addition, the recent conflict with Hamas caused significant death and destruction and traumatized millions across much of the country. It also laid bare tensions between Israeli Jews and Arabs, especially in diverse cities, that challenge decades of work toward peaceful coexistence and social integration. And just this week, the decision by ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s to cancel its licensing agreement with an Israeli company because it refused to enforce a boycott beyond the Green Line illustrates the continued potency of the BDS movement.
Yet our experience in Israel was dominated by examples of the “good” – of attitudes, initiatives, and impact that left us optimistic and inspired:
- We spent time with four members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, who were refreshingly optimistic about the ability of the new and diverse governing coalition to improve social services, protect religious freedom and the rights of all citizens, and strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.
- We learned about JDC initiatives in the city of Lod to help Jews and Arabs in the region live together more harmoniously, and in Bnai Brak to empower thousands in the Haredi community through job training and education.
- In Sderot, a Gaza border town that has been pummeled by Hamas mortar fire, we learned about Natal’s vital work helping trauma victims achieve recovery – including children who benefit from cutting-edge animal therapy.
- We also visited an Ethiopian absorption center run by the Jewish Agency for Israel, where residents and social workers have braved both COVID and rockets to ensure that new immigrants are able to effectively integrate into Israeli society.
In this week’s Torah reading, Va’etchanan, Moses prepares the Jewish people to enter Israel – a rich land “flowing with milk and honey.” On our visit we saw not only the richness of the land but also the richness and beauty of its people. With your help, Federation is proud to support organizations like JDC, Natal, and the Jewish Agency that are working to ensure a secure and vibrant life for all Israelis.
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford
Photo caption: From left to right: JFGH incoming Women's Philanthropy Chair Jill Dulitsky, Chair of the Board and National Women's Philanthropy Chair Carolyn Gitlin, and President and Chief Executive Officer David Waren overlook the border with Gaza.