By Stacey Dresner
WORCESTER – As the child of Holocaust survivors, Jeff Narod has a special affection for the state of Israel.
“When my parents were trying to figure out what to do when they came under attack by the Nazis, it would have been great if they had had a place to go to. But there wasn’t at the time and their families perished. Personally, I am very proud that we now have Israel, a country that is democratic and stands up for Jewish people all around the world.”
As chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts, Narod hopes to build a stronger bond between Israel and the local community.
The Israel committee was formed several months ago, Narod said, “to help facilitate knowledge regarding the relationship between Israel and our community. We want to make sure people have access to information regarding Israel and the Jewish community worldwide. We want to be able to build a bridge between us and people in Israel.”
The Israel Committee includes 10 members of the community, including Howard Borer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass.
Narod said that the local community already has great programs linking Central Mass. and Israel, such as the Young Emissary program and involvement in Birthright Israel. “We feel like the programs we have are excellent, but we would like to really see as many cultural, professional and education exchanges as possible between Israel and the U.S.”
Narod said that they would like to expand on the number of speakers coming to the community who will appeal to both adults and young people, and inform them about what is going on in Israel and other Jewish communities around the world.
“So much is going on around the world in terms of anti-Semitism and we want to be able to help people to understand better what is going on around the world right now,” he said. “For example, in Europe, there are so many issues regarding anti-Semitism that have cropped up since World War II. We are proud that now there is a Jewish country that is strong and if people need to go there they are able to. There are so many families, for example, in France, who are experiencing anti-Semitism and are now making aliyah to Israel.”
Narod said that Israel advocacy is an important goal of the Israel committee.
“We are concerned that the stories that we often see in the media don’t fully represent what is happening regarding Israel,” he said. “Israel doesn’t just help Jewish people, but aids other countries around the world and that doesn’t always come across in the media. When they go out to help a country after an earthquake or flood, without a political connection and doing it only totally out of the goodness of their heart, that doesn’t always get reported in the media.”
Diana Malkin of Worcester became a member of the Israel committee after being recruited by Narod. A year ago she and her family hosted Rivi Behar, one of the Young Israeli Emissaries. Narod was the host of emissary Ziv Zamir.
“That was an amazing experience,” Malkin said. “When Rivi was living with us,
I wanted to learn a lot more about Israel, so we had long talks and she would tell me about Israel from her perspective, and I started reading more on the Internet.”
Last May, Malkin’s daughter, a sophomore in college, went on Birthright Israel. “She was all set to study abroad in Europe this year but she came back from Birthright and said, ‘Forget it, I am going to Israel.’” Her daughter has now been in Israel since January.
With these close connections to Israel, Malkin said that when Narod asked her to be on the committee, it seemed like a natural.
“I thought, ‘Well, that is pretty good timing – sure, I will do it!”
Malkin said that at the beginning she wasn’t sure what the committee would do, but that after hashing it out over the course of the first few meetings, they figured out the role of the committee.
“I think we are looking for avenues to increase the knowledge base in Central Massachusetts around Israel and things going on in Israel. We are also looking at methods for counteracting potential misperceptions in the media. One of the
first things we want to do is figure out who
is our audience, and that has been the hardest thing.”
To that end, the committee has created a survey, asking members of the community to rate their knowledge of Israel and Hebrew, how they access information about Israel and whether they are familiar with programming offered by the Jewish Federation.
“We want to see if we can collect some data to help us highlight what areas we should pay more attention to,” Malkin said.
The survey (which can be found on page 19 of this week’s Ledger) can be accessed by visiting www.surveymonkey.com/s/