Last week I had the honor to participate in the Advocacy2Gether Seminar program in Indianapolis. The seminar was part of the Partnership2Gether branch of The Jewish Agency for Israel. This would be my second experience through Partnership2Gether, the first of which was my Alternative Spring Break trip in March 2013.
The Partnership2Gether program is a part of The Jewish Agency for Israel whose goal is to connect international Jewish communities directly with communities in Israel. The idea is to create dialogue on issues, challenges, and successes within our respective communities. Once this dialogue is established, communities can then pool their resources, experience, and strengths to act and generate change.
Partnership believes that by establishing links at community level the connections are stronger, dialogue more meaningful, and action more direct. With over 550 communities connected through 45 individual partnerships, Partnership2Gether involves some 300,000 people annually to promote change in local and international Jewish communities. Go us, right?!
About the Central Consortium and Western Galilee Partnership
The partnership that I have been involved in is the one between the Central Consortium of the US and the Western Galilee (PLUS our incredible friends in Budapest, Hungary!!).
In the US, the Central Consortium consists of Louisville, Austin, San Antonio, Omaha, Des Moines, South Bend, N.W. Indiana, Indianapolis, Toledo, Youngstown, Canton, and Dayton.
In Israel, the Western Galilee region consists of several communities. Rosh HaNikra, Nahariya, and Acco are some of the communities that I have had and continue to have direct ties with.
I am always fascinated by these maps because when you look at the geographic size of the two regions and then the number of communities that are included you begin to get a feel for the diversity of the Western Galilee. For me, this is a crucial aspect to our partnership because it allows us to look at our Jewish identities and the issues our communities face in a context that is not solely Jewish.
The programs that the Central Consortium and Western Galilee offer are numerous and cover four main objectives; Education, Arts & Community, Medical, and Resource Development. Each of these objectives have their own programs and events, but my experience with the Partnership has been through the Education programs of Alternative Spring Break and Advocacy2Gether (which was the second stage of a TriTeam prgram). While I could go on and on about the programs that the Partnership offers, I want to focus on the Advocacy2Gether program in this post. For my Alternative Spring Break experience, please see my post from last year!
Wow, where do I start?! The seminar consisted of delegates from Israel, Hungary, and the United States. Most of the delegates started their experience on that first weekend of May but I was unable to take a full week off of work so I joined on Tuesday evening after work.
As some of you may know, one of my best friends from the ASB experience, Idan, would be at this seminar. In fact, I was going to be spending the week crashing on the couch in his and Hilal’s hotel room. I got in very late on Tuesday night but as soon as I opened that door all I heard was, “BEEEEEEEENNNNNNN!” coming from the other room. I threw my bags down and embraced my best friend. We were both so excited we could hardly speak. I am sure that anyone who didn’t already know us would have thought we had grown up together and even I find it hard to believe we could be so close after having spent one week together over a year ago. But the world and people work in strange ways, and this friendship is just one of many things that I owe to the Partnership, ASB, and Advocacy2Gether.
The seminar was a fairly compact one as far as international guests go. The three Israelis were two men Idan and Hillal, who is Druze, and one woman, Avital. The Hungarians were five women; Noemi, who I had met on my ASB, was joined with Judit, Petra, Barbara (Barbi!), and Aniko. I was the only US delegate not from Indy and even now it is hard to discern which of the Indy crew were delegates, guests, or speakers. But that is the way it should be because it just speaks to the open, close environment that was within the seminar from the first moment on. It was truly incredible to see how, as a group, we seamlessly worked with whoever was joining us for that program or day.
On Wednesday, I was pretty nervous to meet everyone. I knew that many of the delegates had already participated in the TriTeam program and that I was coming into the seminar halfway through. But I was welcomed with kind smiles and open arms which made transitioning into the group very easy. During the day we had programs that addressed the issue of fundraising, how to include the components of the Partnership in our programming, as well as experiences at Hooverwood, the only Jewish nursing home in Indianapolis that is located on the JCC’s campus. The programming was very educational for me and I think that it exposed how differently the three cultures viewed money and fundraising. We talked about different approaches, how to establish that initial reason/connection to give money, as well as gave many resources for further information. The Jewish programming event was interesting because it is a subject that we continually battle with in the community; how do we make sure that all of our events contain Jewish components but keep them fresh/non-intimidating?
In the evening, Idan and Hillal had an incredible opportunity to go to the Pacer’s playoff game so we shifted our plans to accommodate that. The group met an elderly woman, Susan, who was from Hungary and loved speaking with the girls in Hungarian, at a pizza place close to a mall for dinner. A short stint shopping at the mall and then we headed over to a bowling alley which was an absolute blast! I had never seen a bowling alley like this; who knew a DJ and full bar with servers was a thing now? This was an invaluable experience for me, as this was really my first time to get to know the rest of the delegates in a less formal, structured format. And I managed to keep all my teeth, too!
Thursday was a pretty intense day of programming. We had a conversation about the difference between philanthropy and charity in the morning that we tied back into the fundraising conversation from the day before. After a short break and a last-minute run to Graeter’s (we had to celebrate Hungary’s National Ice Cream Day!) we entered into a program about Israel advocacy and the information we need to face the arguments of the anti-Israel movement. While this is a very important issue that we should without a doubt be discussing and preparing for, I did not think that this particular program took the right approach to it; talking about ‘winning’ the argument’ where they really should be talking about ‘participating in dialogue’, behaving like everyone interprets information the same way so the only logical explanation for someone disagreeing with you is that they are uninformed, and failing to recognize that Israel is not perfect (no country in the world is) and sharing facts and topics from both sides of the discussion. The presenters, while knowledgeable, did not have the proper understanding for our group dynamic and were unprepared to leave their pre-planned steps to accommodate our unique program. I also felt that the conversation had been built to target college campus’ in the United States and no one in our group fell into this demographic. We needed active conversation tools about anti-Semitism, not educational facts on anti-Israel. The end of the presentation was much better because we finally got to a bit of role playing over hot-topic conversations but since we had to wade through so much on the front-side this exercise felt rushed. All in all I think it was a very valuable program both for the information it provided and the perspective many of us took away from it for future programming.
That evening was the exact opposite of the day. We separated men and women for the night so all the guys met up with several Jewish leaders from the Indy community at a Mexican restaurant that was hidden in the back of a Latino grocery store. It was a very cool experience and was the closest thing to authentic Mexican food you will get here in the MidWest. Then all of us went back to a home for bourbon and cigars. The night honestly could not have been better. While relaxing and casual, we did cover multiple important topics about education, Israel, the anti-Semitic situation in Budapest, and many others.
Friday was another great day where our programming was much less intense. Our plans got jumbled around a bit that morning due to one of the Hungarians feeling sick (flashbacks to Cinci-Sao Paulo interchange were unavoidable) but soon enough we were off to downtown Indy to explore the ‘circle’ area around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. We were a bit crunched on time so we explored the market, got our nerd on in a comic book store, ran up to the top of the monument, and then dashed into Rocket Fizz for our candy fix all before jumping back into the car to head to the Children’s Museum.
At the Museum we ate a quick lunch and then had a small tour that culminated in the Museum’s exhibit on three influential children, one of which was Anne Frank. We left the museum to let our international friends have a traditional ‘American’ experience; Costco. Barbi and Petra were not impressed so I took them exploring around the shopping center and we ended up in a McCalister’s where I gave them their first sweet tea experience. They even got a free sweet tea from the cashier. I need to go more places with beautiful Hungarian women more often.
Friday night we went to services at one of the Reform temples in Indy before heading to Michelle’s house for a wonderful Shabbat dinner. This part of the seminar was very meaningful to me because, as a not particularly religious Jew, it was cool to be back in a temple saying the prayers I learned when I became Bar Mitzvah. I was actually really surprised that I remembered everything that I did. The dinner was incredible because it was all of the individuals (and some new ones) who had been in and out of our programs for the past week all gathered in one room. Kids were running around, laughter filled the kitchen and dining room, and the energy in the room was just electric. Here was a group of people from all over the world and different walks of life being brought together by Partnership. Seeing one of the goals of Partnership laid out so obviously in front of me was very heartwarming. It inspired me to believe that we were not just spinning out wheels in the dirt but that, whether we realize it or not, the Jewish communities around the world are being strengthened by our actions.
Saturday was a long day for many reasons. Not only would it be our last full day together, but we headed out to Camp Guci to truly get down to the goal of this entire seminar; planning what is next. After a nice ceremony outdoors in the morning, we had a brief exercise on allocation that was once again tied back to the fundraising conversation from earlier in the week. It was a very good exercise but once again too rushed for it to really hit home. This was by far the most eye raising program for me so far, as neither of the two groups got anywhere near the reality of the situation.
We then broke out into three different groups to discuss the broad questions of, “What’s next?” My group bounced around several ideas dealing with new programs, suggestions for improvement of existing programs, as well as actions for the future that were not program specific. We landed on a Budapest seminar for which that community would be the primary and sole focus of, not an aside to a trip to Israel. We by no way were discrediting the value of going to Israel and Israel’s role in all of our Jewish lives but believed that if Budapest is going to become a true partner in the Partnership then they need to be treated accordingly. And I couldn’t be more excited about the idea.
The groups got back together and we bounced our ideas back and forth against one another for hours. A country-specific seminar to gear up for the Budapest program was my baby for this discussion. Ideas on recruitment, incorporating lessons from programs back into our communities, and even some light logistics of how programs would work were all discussed. We really ran the gambit that afternoon. We eventually called it what it was and were all very happy with the idea generation we had accomplished. A vow to follow through on our ideas was made and then we had some free time before dinner. I got a quick run in but was quickly disheveled by detours surrounding the camp and a loose gravel trail that left my Achilles burning.
That night we celebrated each other and everything that we had shared the past week. We gathered around the fire and shared what it was we were taking away from this experience. Tears were soon in the eyes of many of us, including yours truly, and I think it was a realization for all of us the role we were stepping into not just in Partnership2Gether or our own Jewish communities but the global Jewish experience. We are now leaders in the Jewish movement and have taken on our shoulders some of the weight of moving our people, culture, and beliefs forward. We always use the term ‘Old Guard’ when we talk about traditional beliefs that could be holding back our connection with the modern world and its inhabitants and sitting down around that fire it was plain to see that we are the ‘New Guard,’ who are responsible for taking all that it is to be Jewish and amplifying it in a modern context.