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Seeing firsthand ‘Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh”

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Josh Goldberg and Robyn Galpern

Editor’s note: Two Richmond community leaders – Josh Goldberg and Robyn Galpern – traveled to Israel in late March as part of a Jewish Federations of North America’s Young Leadership Cabinet Mission. The following is Josh Goldberg’s reflection on his unique experience and take-aways during the Mission. A reflection by Robyn Galpern also will appear in the print issue of Reflector and will be included in the May Digital Reflector.

 By Josh Goldberg

In Judaism we have a concept “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh.” “Every Jew is responsible for each other”.

To me, this is what Federation has always been about; always taking responsibility for other Jews. We, of course, have our local partners, agencies, and synagogues, but also Jews around the world.

No Jew can be forgotten, no matter where they live. Hopefully everyone is familiar by now with the work being done by our partner agencies, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), during emergency situations, like the current war in Ukraine. But it was during my recent mission to Israel with Jewish Federations of North America National Young Leadership Cabinet that I experienced some of the amazing programs we support on a day-to-day basis.

At a JAFI-supported Ethiopian absorption center, a temporary home for Ethiopian Olim (immigrants), we learned about the struggles that Ethiopian Jews go through in their attempt to come to Israel.

From walking through the desert for hundreds of miles, with war and criminals popping up at any turn, just to get to the area where they must wait to be given permission to make Aliyah (moving to Israel).

It was truly inspiring to understand the sacrifice that they go through on their path to Aliyah. Once in Israel they go to absorption centers, where they are given a home, job training, Hebrew classes, and other support needed till they are acclimated to the Israeli culture, an average of a year and a half.

This is the quality of responsibility. Knowing that money we donate in Richmond supports an Ethiopian immigrant survive and get to a comfortable place in Israeli society so they can have a meaningful life.

At a JDC facility in B’nei Brak we met the leaders of a groundbreaking job training program. These programs provide job training to the Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) community. Many don’t have an opportunity to get an education in basic secular subjects and technology is not used in their homes as they’re growing up.

They don’t have the skills to get the jobs that are commensurate with their ample abilities. The training program gives them an opportunity to provide for themselves and build a future. On top of the benefits of self-sufficiency to the individuals and their families, this program bridges the divide in Israeli society between the Charedi and secular communities.

And, of course, it’s always great to see the compounded benefits of our dollars by “teaching a man to fish”.

Mission participants listen to a speaker at a Jewish Agency for Israel briefing.

We also visited Na Laga’at (Please Touch), another JDC program made possible by our support. Na Laga’at is a theatre used for productions by people who are blind, deaf or in some cases both. The reference of “Please Touch” is because people communication for the actors and staff is through touch.

They showed us that they have a way of almost typing on the person’s hand the alphabet in order to communicate. They also explained and taught us some Hebrew sign language, which is different than American sign language.

As someone with a daughter who is special needs, and who we spent her younger years thinking she’d only be able to communicate through sign language, it literally brought me to tears to see what accommodations are being made to help the blind and deaf communities participate in the same activities as everyone else. Special needs have been a focus of our Federation since we did the Navigating the Future study, but there is still so much work to do to give people living with some challenges are able to fulfill their best lives.

I do want to mention that I stayed a few extra days in Israel. On one of those days, I visited our Partnership2Gether sister city of Hadera-Eiron. I was able to sit through a class taught by our very own Benny Winkelmann, and I had lunch and tour of the region with the P2G coordinators. We talked about how to continue to expand the relationships in both directions, and I look forward to bringing those conversations back to our Federation to see what we can accomplish.

I must also make mention it was an incredible group whom I was able to take this journey with, including my Richmond partner, Robyn Galpern.

Cabinet is filled with extraordinary individuals who have made significant commitments to being the future leaders of the Jewish people, and they really showed it on this trip, by purchasing $50,000 of gift cards for JAFI to give to the Ukrainian refugees as they arrive in Israel. That is on top of the $225,000+ that was pledged by cabinet members to their local emergency campaigns.

A truly inspiring group of people to embark on my first mission with, and a perfect example of “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh.”

Josh Goldberg, a Federation board member and member of the Executive Committee, chairs the Federation Allocations Committee.

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