Federation’s interfaith mission to Israel

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Charlotte Raynor, pictured here in the Galilee, recently participated in the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s Business Leaders Mission to Israel. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix

The Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix  hosted a business leaders mission to Israel  from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. One of the participants, political activist Charlotte Raynor, shares her impressions from the trip:  

The last time I thought I understood what was going on with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was in fifth grade. I wrote a report for school entitled “How It All Began.” I don’t remember what my thesis was, but since I hadn’t revisited the topic as an adult, I jumped at the chance to participate in the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix Community and Business Leaders Mission to Israel.

It was an interfaith mission designed to give “an understanding of Israel both from an historical and modern-day perspective.”

We started in Tel Aviv with the insights of social historian Paul Liptz, who is on the faculty of Tel Aviv University:

  • 75 %of Israel’s population of 8.4 million (think the population of New York City) is Jewish, most having been born in Israel.
  • 21% of Israel’s population is Arab.
  • 4% are immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia, and other countries.

That mix, taken together with Israel’s unique isolation in the Middle East, has fostered a willingness to take risks, to innovate; and has led to a sense among Israelis that they can make a difference and have an impact on their small and striving society.

We met with innovators in business and technology, and visited so-called incubators or accelerators where Israelis who have an idea for a start-up for a business can find mentors, advisers, work space and encouragement.

The most interesting incubator to me was in Jerusalem at an organization called PresenTense (Presentense.org). It works with social entrepreneurs – those who have an idea for a business or project that will “enrich communal life, grow local economies and solve critical issues facing society.” This is essentially an incubator for tikkun olam, with an emphasis on inclusion and diversity as an added value.

Immigrants, Haredi women, Arab Israelis and others may apply to the program with a proposal for a project to meet a need in their communities. They complete a course curriculum, meet with mentors, and refine their proposals. Even if, at the end, their proposed project is amended or does not attract start-up funding, the participants have gained valuable skills in social entrepreneurship. They are empowered to try, try again.

The other mission highlight for me was visiting the (Shimon) Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. We met with Yarden Leal-Yablonka, who described efforts that I think of as “actionable peace.” Most of the Center’s staff of 33 are project managers who are out in the field helping Israelis and Palestinians to come together, and work together to accomplish something or to meet a need. Leal-Yablonka says these are always projects suggested by the people affected by them, not imposed by well-meaning outsiders. The shared experience of identifying a problem and working toward a solution could be considered “peace education” for Arabs and Jews.

With children, the Peres Center does its work through sports programs. At first, Israeli and Palestinian children are introduced to “the other” via Skype so they can get acquainted first without face-to-face confrontation.

When the kids get together for games, they use the fair play method, rather than using a referee. The learning experience is in teamwork, sportsmanship, and fair play.

My thought is that whatever is happening at the political level, Arab and Israeli kids have concrete experiences with each other that could grow peace.

After learning about some of the projects of the Peace Center, we were able to view some of the letters, documents and photographs from the Shimon Peres archives. One was a quote from Peres which I think sums up the prospects for peace:

“I don’t know if it’s possible, but it is interesting.”

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Thankfulness is not just once a year

Guest blogger Rabbi Irwin Wiener of Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation offers some thoughts in advance of Veterans Day, which is next Wednesday, Nov. 11, and Thanksgiving, which this year is on Thursday, Nov. 26.

Each year, at this time, we pause for two major events in our lives as Americans: Thanksgiving and Veterans Day. These two holidays, each in their own way, offer the same expressions of gratefulness and appreciation. And, each year, I draw special attention to them because, all too often, we neglect to remember how these holidays affect our lives.

When we lose someone who has devoted his or her energy to the safety and survival of our American way of life, or see the list of wounded increase with each passing day, we pause to thank them for their participation in ensuring our safety and survival.

Those who wear the uniform of this great country represent our freedom. More than that they remind us of the vigilance needed to remain a nation of tolerance and an example to the world. It is no different for those who have, but no longer, carry the banner, those who have served and now continue to remain proud of that commitment.

Our history as a nation is replete with stories of valor and fortitude. Blood has been shed, not only here, but also on foreign soil, with the understanding that liberty and freedom require sacrifice. Sacrifice, at times, requires the ultimate sacrifice. There are no barriers or boundaries when searching for the opportunity to breathe free.

On Nov. 11, we will once again devote our attention to the members of our armed forces, both past and present. How I wish that we could and would remember them every day of the year. Our diversity is a testament to the contributions made every day and every night.

Right here, in the Valley, we see this effort in action. Our veterans are living examples of goodness and allegiance. Their untiring efforts in behalf of all veterans, regardless of race, color, creed or religion, sets a standard that illustrates their commitment to the ideals for which they served.

It is fitting that this time has been set aside because, in our pursuit of daily activities, we tend to forget. Patriotism seems to be relegated to memory.

As we honor our veterans, we also commemorate a holiday designed to remind us of the sacrifices made by the generations — Thanksgiving. These two celebrations give us pause to reflect on our good fortune and to express our thanks to a great country. Just look around the world — so many people clamoring to be free and live in societies that are accepting and free from the crippling elements of war.

We certainly are not perfect, but that does detract from the good we do. Nor does it diminish the response we offer when there is a need that requires our resources. This country was founded on the principle of inclusiveness.

Thankfulness is about recognizing the wonders we witness, the magic we bring to the world and the fulfillment we represent to others. To me, the most significant aspect of these commemorations is a simple word — hope.

Thankfulness should not be just once a year. Thankfulness requires understanding. Thankfulness should be part of us all the days of our lives. Then, we will truly pay homage to all who represent the goodness known as America.