Partnership2Gether: The Jewish Agency’s Peoplehood Platform

[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 8 – Nurturing Jewish Peoplehood in the 21st Century – What Should We Do Differently? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]

by Andrea S. Arbel

The relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry has taken many forms over its relatively short history. Traditionally, organized world Jewry has provided Israel with financial, political, and moral support. The State of Israel has provided Diaspora communities with a homeland and an increased sense of security. What has changed is that in recent years, it is increasingly recognized that Israel has a primary role in the continuity of world Jewry, and that there is mutual responsibility among both Israelis and overseas Jewry to ensure a strong and vibrant future for the Jewish people.

Partnership2Gether. P2G. (formerly Partnership 2000 and P2K). What is it and how has it evolved to be a platform for nurturing Jewish peoplehood in the 21st Century? P2G was created 15 years ago by the Jewish Agency for Israel with our partners in the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod. In the simplest terms, its main goal is to connect a specific Jewish community abroad with a city and region in Israel in what is akin to a sister city relationship.

Partnership was designed to make what is frequently an amorphous relationship with Israel into something tangible. Instead of seeing Israel through the cliche tour bus window, P2G gives the members of the Jewish community an opportunity to develop ongoing relations with a specific region in Israel – getting to know first hand its strengths, weaknesses, culture and above all its people. Today, there are 45 Partnerships in Israel with 550 Jewish communities overseas, 450 programs and 350,000 participants annually.

P2G’s unique added value is its “People-to-People” (P2P) activity. “P2P” includes a long list of programs that directly engage youth, adults and professionals, for example, doctors or artists who meet in Israel, the overseas community and/or cyberspace 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. For Israelis, even if they have traveled abroad, this is often their first time visiting a Jewish community and having the opportunity to see its strength and beauty as a “community” as well as the very real challenges being faced. “We went as Israelis, we came back as Jews,” is the response heard over and over from participating Israelis.

Growing the Partnership Platform: Within the Jewish Agency for Israel’s new strategic plan, which identifies as a core mission the strengthening of P2G Part II Jewish identity through meaningful Israel experiences and “mifgashim” (shared encounters), Partnership2Gether re-emerged as one of the organization’s flagship programs and was reaffirmed as the only international platform solely dedicated to creating relationships between Israel and Jewish communities on an individual, organizational and community level. The challenge for P2G then became how to take this international Jewish peoplehood network to the next level and develop new venues for engagement.

Within the existing 45 partnerships, understanding themselves as a local platform for Jewish communal engagement is not trivial – it was and still is a change in mindset. In this context, P2G was defined as a platform for Jewish communal engagement – one which strategically engages Jewish communal organizations such as JCCs, Hillel, Birthright, schools, synagogue and/or summer camps. Indeed, the Jewish polity is neither defined by the number of individuals living in a defined geographic region nor the number of communal organizations. A healthy community is defined by the glue that brings together the various organizations and thus individuals into a synergetic relationship. We believe that P2G can be the nexus of this development.

To strategically advance partnership as a platform, we developed methodology for partnerships and conducted a mapping of the Jewish communal organizations across P2G. We discovered that we are actively engaging some 200 Jewish formal and informal schools overseas, more than 100 synagogues, close to 100 JCCs – a very serious scope with untapped Jewish peoplehood potential.

This resulted in the development of strategic relationships with JCCA, WCJCC, Hillel, and MASA which led to increased joint programming on the local partnership level as well as on the international level. For example, this past year P2G undertook joint Jewish peoplehood leadership programs with MASA involving more than 200 young people from the Partnership family and MASA participants. This has deepened their Jewish peoplehood experience beyond their respective programs. This past summer, P2G hosted close to 1000 JCCA Macabi Game participants in their partnership regions for home hospitality – no less than an army operation.

In Chanukah 2011, P2G launched the “International School Twinning Network”. The network currently connects more than 200 schools in Israel with more than 200 schools (pre-school-12th grade) and informal educational institutions.

School twinning has proven to create cultural change in the schools – impacting how the Diaspora school relates to and understands Israel and how the Israeli schools relate to Judaism and the Jewish people. For young students (and even many of the educators who have never been to Israel) for the first time Israel becomes real, tangible. Likewise Israelis become acquainted with the complexities of overseas Jewish communities and develop a greater understanding of their role and responsibility to the Jewish people. The network is now expanding to schools in France, the FSU, Latin America and Australia and provides educators with a pedagogical and professional exchange of ideas. Our goal is to expand this educational network across the globe.

The heart of this Israel educational engagement network will be a “knowledge center” based on educational standards and student outcomes. The network will also feature a portal including a growing list of successfully implemented educational twinning programs, teacher training programs, how to prepare missions and more. It will enable educators and students to see what their counterparts in other partnerships are doing, and also take pride in the fact that they are part of something beyond than their own specific program.

Lastly, the P2G Platform recently launched the “Partnership@Home” initiative. One of the most significant elements of partnership is its ethos of home hospitality. Thousands of young people and adults from the Diaspora have spent time in the homes of Israelis and vice versa, on exchanges, missions and programs. They may forget some of places they visited, not always be able to pronounce the names of others, but they will never forget their hosts, what they ate, and how they felt. In a recent survey home hospitality and Shabbat dinner with an Israeli family was voted the number one factor for making their P2G experience “ exceptional” and the main reason why they not only keep in touch but actually return. They come back to be with their friends.

Through Partnership@Home, P2G wants to bring this very personal home hospitality experience to as many Birthright, Onward Israel and MASA participants by working hand-in-hand and systematically with communities. Our vision is to begin to change the culture of these programs and make home hospitality (and when relevant having Israeli adoptive families) an integral part and ultimately the culture of these Israel experience programs thereby making their Israel experience even more meaningful and long-lasting.

In conclusion, through the Partnership Platform, Israelis and overseas Jewry are working together to strengthen the Jewish people as a whole. The beauty of the P2G platform is that it is not a program but an evolving platform responding to the changes of the Jewish polity. The second 10 years is different from our first decade of activity – and it will surely be fascinating to see what the future holds.

Andrea S. Arbel is the Director of the Partnership Unit at the Jewish Agency for Israel – responsible for the “Partnership2Gether” program.

This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 8 – Nurturing Jewish Peoplehood in the 21st Century – What Should We Do Differently? – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.