By Andrea S. Arbel
Our philanthropic world is generally characterized by fast change. Three to five year funding cycles at best. Exit strategies. What is striking about Partnership2Gether (P2G) is the sheer fact that it is marking and celebrating 20 years of activity – and still growing.
For those not familiar with P2G, a bit of history. It was born 20 years ago in the name of Partnership 2000 by the Jewish Agency for Israel with its partners in the Jewish Federations of North America (then UJC) and Keren Hayesod. The founders’ main goal was to connect a specific Jewish community abroad with a city and region in Israel akin to a sister city relationship. It was designed to make what is often an amorphous relationship with Israel into something tangible, giving members of the Jewish community an opportunity to collaborate and develop true friendships with Israelis.
The essence of P2G also reflects what has been increasingly recognized in the Jewish polity: that direct engagement and a strong relationship with Israel plays an important role in strengthening the Jewish identity of diaspora Jewry; and as such there is mutual responsibility among both Israelis and overseas Jewry to ensure a strong and vibrant future for the Jewish people.
Today, there are 46 Partnerships engaging 450 Jewish overseas communities with close to 100 local authorities in Israel. P2G numbers are stunning just to mention a few: 350,000 program participants annually, 450 programs and 10,000 volunteers. P2G’s Global School Twinning Network which was launched four years ago engages 650 school, 56,000 students and 2,100 teachers. Financial leveraging is no less significant: In the 2015 fiscal year, $12 million allocated by federations and communities to P2G leveraged an additional $15 million!
Part of P2G’s success is rooted in what may seem like a technicality – its governance structure. Most partnerships are led by an independent joint steering committee comprised of lay leaders from both communities and a dash of representation from the Israeli municipalities. This leadership group defines the vision and goals of the partnership and then decides on an annual basis which programs to support. The steering committee, led by a volunteer co-chair from Israel and a co-chair from the overseas community, has marked a new paradigm for Israel-Diaspora relations. It brings Israeli civic leaders and overseas lay leaders into a mutual relationship thereby changing the traditional benefactor-beneficiary relationship into a partnership of equals.
Each of the 46 partnerships is characterized by their own unique mix of two programmatic pillars: “People-to-People” (P2P) and community development. P2P includes a long list of programs that directly engage children, youth, adults and professionals. For example, doctors, educators, social workers and artists engage in programs which include “mifgashim” (direct encounters) to learn from each other’s professional expertise, but also to simply get to know one another as people. For many overseas Jews, even if they have been to Israel, this often offers the first opportunity not only to actually collaborate with a colleague from Israel but to actually meet an Israeli and spend time in their home and with their family and vice versa.
Indeed, the Impact on the Jewish identity of participating Israelis is no less important or profound and is a goal of P2G in and of itself. For many Israelis, even if they have traveled abroad, this is often their first opportunity to gain an understanding of what being a community means, witnessing different expressions of religious pluralistic practice, learning about the community’s strengths and weaknesses, and the veritable challenges being faced outside of Israel as a Jewish people. They internalize the role and responsibility that Israel and Israelis have in ensuring a thriving Jewish people and the fact that the fate of Israel and the Jewish people are wholly intertwined. Often times, participating Israelis claim that their life has changed due to their participation in P2G stating that they “left as an Israeli and came back as a Jew.”
One of the unique and most impactful components of P2G is that scores of programs include home hospitality by design – sleeping under the same roof, spending quality down time together including Shabbat. Both Israelis and overseas Jews discover their commonalities and differences as Jews, teenagers, parents – above all as people. In a national P2G survey conducted several years ago, home hospitality and a shared Shabbat emerged as the two most impactful components of the participants’ time in Israel. This is the reason why people from overseas communities will return time and again to the most peripheral towns and cities of Israel – to visit what they feel is “family”.
In the sphere of community development in Israel, partnerships provide significant resources to help empower Israeli society, for example, through women empowerment programs, young leadership and adult Jewish peoplehood-leadership programs. In addition, partnerships often provide resources to local initiatives and NGO’s. While programs vary, P2G is a catalyst for grass roots initiatives that overtime, also help strengthen Israel’s civic society.
There are several reasons why P2G is still going strong after two decades of activity, welcoming six new federations into the P2G family over the past two years. P2G has never been stagnant – it is not a project that starts over again every academic year. Like all relationships, there are ups and downs, but these partnerships have evolved and matured. The agendas and programs have changed to reflect the changing environment, challenges and opportunities in both partnering communities. The inclusion of Israeli lay leaders infused an“us” Jewish peoplehood conversation focusing on which programs can strengthen each other and not just Israel. A striking example is that Israelis in a growing number of partnerships are raising money locally to help expand P2G programs and in some cases are even raising money for the federation’s general campaign. Local municipalities are investing with significant services-in-kind as well as cash money – a far cry from Project Renewal and the early years of P2K.
For participating federations, P2G provides unique opportunity for expanding circles of engagement. P2P programs enable federations to reach out to engaged and unengaged members of the community with a different calling card: offering unique P2P programs based on a very personal interest (professional, affinity group, age group). P2G enables federation to offer a direct and personal experience with Israelis over a serious period of time. It is an opportunity to get youth (and their parents) and adults more involved in federation and enthusiastic about Israel.
For many federations, P2G is an effective platform for the successful allocation and leveraging of additional dollars for Jewish Agency programs (e.g., Youth Futures, Loan Funds, shlichut), non-Jewish Agency programs (e.g., Diller, birthright, and JFNA’s Negev Coalition) as well as directed giving of specific donors based on specific interests. For some federations, P2G has developed into a strategic campaign tool.
Lastly, P2G has been an effective platform for federation to engage Jewish communal organizations and initiatives with Israel. For example, engaging local schools, JCCs, synagogues, birthright, summer camps, MASA participants, etc. with Israel via federation via P2G. This places federation at the nexus of the local Jewish communal map and strengthens the communal glue of the community. A win-win for all.
At this juncture, we are celebrating two decades of local endeavor with a global Jewish impact. We thank and commend all of our partners. The challenges ahead of us in the Jewish polity are formidable. But by joining hands, we can do more together to leave a stronger Jewish world for our children and grandchildren.
Andrea Arbel is the Director of the Partnership Unit at The Jewish Agency for Israel – responsible for “Partnership2Gether,” The Global School Twining Network, The Loan Fund Division for Small Businesses, Allocations to the Religious Streams, and a number of other JAFI initiatives. Before entering the world of Partnership, she served as Advisor to the Director General of The Jewish Agency’s Aliyah and Absorption Department. After making aliyah in 1986 from the United States, she worked at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think-tank where she published numerous books and articles. Highlighted in Andrea’s bibliography are: “Riding the Wave: The Jewish Agency’s Role in the Mass Aliyah of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry to Israel” and “The Blue Box Revisited: Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel-The Jewish National Fund.” Andrea lives with her husband and three children in Kfar Uriyah, Israel.