Shalom! Vitayu! Welcome!

Welcome to my journal about the recent JFNA Marketing Directors Mission to Israel (March 28-31) and Kiev, Ukraine (April 1-3).  It was my fifth mission to Israel and fourth to the Former Soviet Union. It was by far the most impactful trip I have ever been on in terms of the breadth of projects explored and the way they were presented.  Every site visit brought us face-to-face (and heart-to-heart) with beneficiaries, service providers and young pioneers in programs focused on rejuvenating the Zionistic spirit in Israel and rekindling Jewish life in the Ukraine.  Photographers and video cameramen were with us virtually every step of the way, documenting many of the stories.  

“Keeping the Promise” (Israel, March 28-31): 

Israel as a nation has gone from “surviving” to “thriving,” and our mission is clearly focused on making sure no one falls through the cracks of this dynamic, burgeoning society.  Our partner agencies are also working hard to seal some of the cracks – neglected areas across the country – by enlisting young pioneers to bolster communities where the most help is needed – a phenomenon called “New Zionism.”  In Israel, we made 16 site visits with a wide range of themes.  Here are some samples:

  • Social Welfare (Poverty, Unemployment, Children at Risk and Special Needs) – We met Or, a  troubled teen from Sderot, Israel, who has cooked up a new career at Cafe Yael thanks to the JDC’s Turning Point Program;
  • Education – We learned how an ORT Smart School just three miles from the Gaza border is teaching its students “not to hate” despite years of bombings (A few days later, a bus from that very school was blown up by a missile, critically injuring a 16-year-old student who later died);
  • Jewish Renewal – Our group walked the hills of a “sustainable” farm in Modi’in, where 40 young MASA participants are “cross-pollinating” their dreams of living off the land as “New Zionists,” cultivating friendships and discovering their Jewish identities;
  • Aliyah and Absorption – We welcomed 100 Ethiopian Olim to their promised land after traveling “2,000 Years in 4 Hours” from the deserts of Africa to modern Israeli society.

“Restoring Hope” (Kiev, Ukraine, April 1-3): 

The Jewish community in the Former Soviet Union is a fraction of what it once was, a result of wars and mass emigration over the past several decades.  The challenges of this small population are further complicated by a battered economy and ever-present anti-Semitism.  Our mission is two-fold:  1) delivering a wide range of welfare services to thousands of seniors, children-at-risk and their families through the Hesed system, and 2) providing numerous programs aimed at strengthening Jewish identity and providing exposure to Israel.  In Kiev, we made nine site visits with the following themes:

  • Social Welfare – We visited with Vlada, 12, and her brother, Yaroslav, 8, who live  in a hovel with their mother and grandmother in Zhitomer, Ukraine, yet are blossoming thanks to food programs, winter relief and cultural activities provided by the local Hesed Center;
  • Education – Our group spent time with students and teachers at the Kiev ORT Technology Lyceum, one of 56 schools in 48 countries to be chosen by Microsoft to join its small, exclusive international group of innovative Pathfinder Schools;
  • Israel Programs and Aliyah – We welcomed Shabbat with a dozen families at a JAFI retreat designed to counter their negative experiences about being Jewish with positive programming and exposure to exciting programs in Israel like Selah’h and MASA-Mir;
  • Jewish Renewal – We celebrated Havdallah with Hillel students in downtown Ukraine, reciting the Shabbat-ending prayers in six different languages and heard from a new generation of young adults that have found hope in Judaism and each other and want to remain in their homeland and build a future together.

Prior to the Israel leg of our mission, I had the opportunity to spend a day in our sister City Kiryat Bialik.   I visited bomb shelters that ourFederationfunded in the local schools and the city’s community center, met with local police who have utilized the van we donated during the Second Lebanon and spent time at the playground that was generously built by local donors.  I also had the honor of having lunch with the mayor, who shared his vision of growth for the city and our partnership.

All in all, the 2011 JFNA Marketing Directors Mission was a tremendous experience that helped the participants reconnect with our core mission of giving help and hope to thousands of Jews in Israel and our global family. I look forward to sharing these experiences in the weeks and months ahead.  I woulds also like to say “Todah Rabah” and “Spasiba” – that’s “Thank You” in Hebrew and Ukrainian – to the Federation leadership for giving the me the oppportunity to make this journey.  Here is an overview of the mission in chronological order:

PRE-MISSION VISIT TO KIRYAT BIALIK (5)

ISRAEL DAY 1: MON, MAR 28, 2011 (3)

ISRAEL DAY 2: TUE, MAR 29, 2011 (5)

ISRAEL DAY 3: WED, MAR 30, 2011 (4)

ISRAEL DAY 4: THU, MAR 31, 2011 (4)

KIEV DAY 1: FRI, APR 1, 2011 (2)

KIEV DAY 2: SATURDAY, APR 2, 2011 (1)

KIEV DAY 3: SUNDAY, APR 3, 2011 (3)

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