by Bracha Zuriel
How do we make sure that American Jews continue to support their local Jewish federation campaigns?
Partnership2Gether (an initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel), is an essential tool to Jewish federations. In this “me generation”, the Partnership can play a role in strengthening community members’ emotional ties to their own Jewish identity, to Israel and to their own communities and campaigns. In essence, Partnership2Gether creates a pathway for individual involvement.
Let us look at four ways in which Partnership2Gether, which enables Americans and Israelis to truly partner on joint projects, provides opportunities to impact local federations and campaigns:
The first way: the meeting (mifgash) of Americans and Israelis gives both sides a fresh, first hand opportunity to explore what “being Jewish” means to them.
“When I am in Canton, Ohio I feel Jewish”, said a former Knesset member and later Chair of the Partnership as he opened a meeting of the Partnership Steering committee.
“For me, being in Israel makes me feel Jewish”, countered an American participant.
The dialogue that develops from these statements is the essence of the opportunity of Partnership. The magic of the Israel-Diaspora connection is that through experiencing the “other side”, participants examine their own Jewish identity. This results in both redefined personal concepts of Jewish identity and a strengthened bond to that renewed Jewish identity. Stronger Jewish identity increases personal commitment to the Jewish community.
The second opportunity lies in the unique sort of relationships formed through Partnership activities. The experience of being in each others’ homes, meeting each others’ families and workplaces breeds a sharing and a kind of closeness that one does not necessarily find with friends from the same community. Bonding through a Jewish connection, and yet being culturally different, makes for a very special connection. This special connection and the feelings it invokes can be a “driver” for community members to become more involved.
The third opportunity: Partnership2Gether can play a role in redefining giving to Israel and the relationship with Israel. Local campaigns are still significantly based on giving to needs in Israel. The Partnership provides authentic ways for American Jews to connect with their Israeli peers and colleagues, and not just to “help” Israelis in need. Giving can now go toward the building of relationships that impact both sides, not just supporting the needy. Americans who connect with Israeli peers through joint endeavor have a way to better understand Israel’s policies and realities and feel more personally committed to Israel’s continued existence. Israel is no longer an abstract concept; it is the place where their friends who they care and worry about live their lives.
The fourth element: Partnership2Gether enables Israelis and Americans the opportunity to “do together”, which creates a web of relationships, a “community”. The participants have a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. The Partnership endeavor is local and overseas, as a former local Partnership chair said, ” … the Western Galilee is not across the water; it is part of our local community.” Thus, the Partnership expands the sphere of influence and impacts the local community and Israel. This feeling is a primary motivator for further involvement and greater giving.
The Partnership impact is primarily on those who actually participate in projects and thereby have the opportunity to create personal unique relationships with Israelis. Getting people to visit Israel is the clearest way to increase the sphere of influence of the Partnership. Another way is to increase the local participation and home hosting of Israeli Partnership visitors in US communities. Many people have made their first trips to Israel after hosting Israelis. Having those who have had experiences share their insights and excitement through speaking and campaign literature can further impact the community.
We have now seen why Partnership2Gether activity needs to be such a central focus of federations’ campaigns. The Partnership is a platform for empowering community members to personalize their Jewish identity and relationship to Israel and community, making it a powerful tool to increase their understanding of the need and benefit of the local campaign. The federation campaign is no longer seen as being about nebulous local and overseas needs – it is about “me and my friends”.
Bracha Zuriel is the founding and immediate past director of the Central Area Consortium (14 Midwest and Texas communities) in Partnership2Gether with the Western Galilee. Living in Israel for over 30 years, she is currently working as a consultant and mentor to nonprofits.