Partnership program celebrates 20 years of ongoing, meaningful engagement
By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Every year, 80 teens from the northern Galilee region travel to the United Kingdom around the time of Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Remembrance Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) for a series of “Magic Moments.” These are high-achieving teens from generally affluent families in Israel. They enjoy a week of home hospitality with some of Britain’s finest families, exploring each other’s cultures, getting to know what life is like for one another and forming impenetrable bonds. It’s magic.
The Magic Moments program is a flagship project of the United Kingdom’s Partnership2Gether (P2G) relationship with communities in the northern Galilee area. It benefits the Israelis who get to experience that week in England. The impact on the UK community is likewise considerable.
According to Melvin Berwald, a member of the P2G international steering committee and the former co-chair of the northern Galilee-England partnership, these Israeli teens plan England’s Yom HaZikaron ceremony, a program that didn’t exist in England before Magic Moments.
“They put on this solemn ceremony and suddenly the night falls and Yom HaZikaron becomes Yom HaAtzmaut – and suddenly everyone is celebrating,” Berwald describes. “Within an hour there is this emotional change that gives the England community a snapshot of the true Jewish experience and of life in Israel. Every day in Israel, you see this: there is a terrorist attack and the next day someone is married. [This program] is a significant contribution.”
P2G, a program of The Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren HaYesod, was formerly known as Partnership 2000 (P2K). Several years ago, it rebranded, solidifying a mission that centers on “revitalized, ongoing and meaningful engagement” between partnership communities. The vision: To create a global and united Jewish community.
This year, P2G, with its 46 partnerships engaged in 450 Jewish overseas communities, is celebrating its 20 year anniversary. A celebration, coined P2G@20, will take place between April 4 and 7. The festivities will kick-off with a mega-event sponsored by the Rosh Ha’ayin-New Orleans partnership, including a New Orleans-inspired dinner and jazz music. Visitors from 25 partnership communities from around the world will then experience the power of the partnership through day trips through northern, western and southern Israel. All trips end with what Andrea Arbel, director of the partnership unit at JAFI calls, “the essence of how we do what we do:” home hospitality.
P2G@20’s honorary chair is Raya Strauss Ben Dror, president and co-owner of the Strauss Investment Company and co-owner of Strauss-Elite Group and the former P2G international co-chair.
A (OVER)SEA(S) OF CHANGE
P2G is a powerhouse of people-to-people connections, with 350,000 program participants annually, 450 programs and 10,000 volunteers. But it was not always the inspiration it is today. When P2G began as P2K, it was focused mainly on philanthropic support for the budding Jewish state. Then, American cities were paired with Israeli communities, represented by municipal staff – usually the mayor. The Israeli communities came up with ideas for how to make their communities stronger and petitioned the American communities to help fund those initiatives.
“There was one side giving the money and the other side giving the ideas,” recalls Doron Lev, co-chair of the P2G international steering committee, who has been involved with P2G for more than a decade. “Usually, each side thought it knew what was good for the other side and there was this sense, this feeling that it was not really a partnership.”
Lev says that discomfort has dissipated, resulting in “a real partnership. … Each side decides what it needs and they work together to achieve these goals. … All the time: people-to-people.”
Today, lay committees from abroad meet with lay committees from Israel, which has shifted the dynamic to one of colleagues, peers, friends and family.
Harold Gernsbacher, P2G international co-chair emeritus, says the program engages individuals of all ages, from young children through school pairings, to youth through on-line holiday celebrations, picture and book exchanges, to adults and older adults through art, music and cooking exchanges. He admits it’s “not always a love fest,” but the magic is how Jews from around the world can sit around the same table and help each other make decisions to benefit the Jewish people.
For Americans and other Jews abroad, says Arbel, the partnerships play a key role in solidifying Jewish identity and connection to Israel. So many recent studies point to a growing disconnect from Jewish peoplehood and the State of Israel. The partnership, explains Berwald, sparks new and vibrant connections.
“I think the partnership idea is the next generation’s model for the Diaspora having a special relationship with the people of Israel,” says Berwald.
Similarly, for Jews from smaller Jewish communities, such as France and Britain, where anti-Semitism is on the rise, Berwald says P2G offers a personal connection and a chance for them to feel they have a home in Israel.
“We live in a very troubled world and perhaps with the exception of the Jewish community in America, which is enormous, communities in other parts of the world will perhaps find themselves in Israel in a generation or two,” reasons Berwald. “The more and stronger these relationships are, the better; Jewish people are always stronger together.”
For Israelis, the benefit stems way beyond philanthropy, too. Arbel, who lives in Israel, says Israelis tend to be, “great Zionists and great Israelis, but that doesn’t mean they wake up in the morning thinking about the Jewish people as a Jewish people. Being a Jew in Israel is natural. … Israel has such an important role to play in the resilience of the Jewish people and Israelis’ consciousness needs to be raised to that.”
Arbel says Israelis involved in the partnership now have an understanding of what it means when folks abroad talk about “survival of the Jewish people,” and they have begun to glean an understanding of the challenges that Jews face overseas.
“When it comes to the issue of assimilation, this mega issue lives in the overseas community,” says Arbel.
FRIENDS THAT BECOME FAMILY
Lori Klinghoffer visits Israel several times a year. Without fail, some cabbie always asks her the intimate question, “So, do you have family here?”
“Today, I can answer, ‘No one that it technically related to me, but yes, I have family here,'” says Klinghoffer, referring to friends she has through her Greater Metro West, New Jersey partnership with Ofakim-Merchavim.
“The welcome reception we give each other on both sides of the ocean is beyond partnership,” says Klinghoffer. “It’s in the true spirit of family.”
Klinghoffer recalls how when her community’s partnership first started, Metro West was focused on improving the economic status of the poor town of Ofakim, known as an Israeli development town. Partnership leaders quickly understood that they would not be able to infuse enough cash into Ofakim to make the difference it needed financially. Instead, they decided to focus on building community strength and pride.
Metro West helped Ofakim to launch new educational programs, add dance troupes and art projects, infusing a sense of palpable pride.
“No longer does Ofakim feel like second class citizens in the country,” says Kinghoffer. “It is one of the best accomplishments we have achieved.”
Several years ago, Klinghoffer and her husband helped donate the Klinghoffer Art Igloo, where top Israeli artists come to work with local children. One Purim, Klinghoffer was visiting Ofakim when the primary school students made Purim puppets and then put on a Purim play.
“I looked at those kids like they were my own children,” recalls Klinghoffer. “I had tears running down my face the whole time. I videoed the whole thing and shared it with everyone.
“This is what it is all about: bringing kids together around art, the story of Purim, feeling good about themselves and ourselves – Jewish pride.”
P2G is almost the only platform that brings Jews together – not on a political level and not on a philanthropic level, says Lev.
He continues, “P2G is about the need and interest in being together.”