By Howard Borer
When the Partnership2 Gether project was created over 18 years ago,
it was known as Partnership 2000. It was supposed to be a short-term project which connected Jewish communities in the Diaspora with cities, towns and regions in Israel, and was an outgrowth of another Jewish Agency for Israel program Project Renewal.
The essence of Project Renewal was to help communities in Israel deal with infrastructure and social issues that could not be handled on their own. But as Israel developed and the nature of Israel-Diaspora relations matured, the relationship between the communities also needed to change. The notion of partnership developed whereby both communities-in Israel and the Diaspora-could help one another. There needed to be a two way street built instead of the one-way one where money and expertise flowed only one way, from “us” to “them.”
I need not go into all of the technological, agricultural and medical firsts that have been created in Israel and shared with the world, that have transformed Israel into a first world country, and has created a new understanding and perception of Israel. Yes, there continue to be social issues that need to be remedied and can be assisted by our help, but there is also a realization that if we are going to continue to sustain and better understand our Israeli cousins and they us, the nature of the relationship must change as well. Over these years, it seems that we have grown apart. Language, culture and the way many of us practice our religion are different, and if we are to fully understand our similarities, we must begin to interact with one another on an equal footing.
As a result, Partnership2Gether was created. Our Jewish Federated communities in Connecticut, and three in Massachusetts-Central and Western and New Bedford-have been partnered with Afula and the Gilboa region in Israel, since the inception of P2G. At the beginning of the relationship, it did not differ too much from the Project Renewal model: our New England communities providing funding for the social needs identified by the municipality of Afula and the regional council of the Gilboa region. But over the years, the structure and purpose have changed to more accurately reflect the goals of the program.
The partnership function has evolved into creating what is termed as living bridge projects. These projects are meant to build bridges between our communities, interactive opportunities whereby we here in Southern New England can benefit from Afula/Gilboa and Afula/Gilboa, can continue to benefit from us. Furthermore it is meant to build a better understanding of one another on a personal basis.
How do we get to know one another better? Can we help one another? How can we build a better understanding of our differences and similarities and how can that further strengthen our connections as Jews?
The flagship program of this partnership has been the young emissary program, which brings two post-high school students to our communities to share their experiences, and provide a new and fresh perspective on what Israel is today. These students are hosted by local families and provide a unique opportunity for members of our community, and in particular our youth to get to know one another in a real and personal way…bridging the gaps that have grown between our two communities.
Through these interactions, our community members who knew very little about Israel and had no interest in learning more have taken a much greater interest in our region and in Israel as a whole, and many have travelled for the first time to visit and reengage with the young emissaries and their families.
There are many more ways that this partnership has changed and many more ways that it needs to develop. I will further describe this in the next issue.
Howard Borer is executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass.