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An Experience Like No Other
On his first trip to Israel in March with the Renaissance Group of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, he said he found another kind of balance - "of learning, experiencing, connecting and having fun."
Cherry co-chaired the 20-member Renaissance contingent with Ken Greenberg and Andrew Krouk; each person on the trip received a $2,000 stipend from Federation to spend 10 days in the Jewish homeland. During the trip, they represented Federation at Tel Aviv One, the three-day international young-leadership conference of United Jewish Communities.
The visit began with Shabbat in Jerusalem. "Being at the Western Wall was just about as Jewish of an experience as you can have," said Cherry. "And it was more than being at the wall, it was this feeling of connection to the people there; and as we traveled, it continued, as almost everyone I met was Jewish everywhere I went.
At the conference, about 1,200 young professionals from across North America, Israel and countries as remote as Ukraine came together to hear Israeli political leaders and those who head UJC. They also met and interacted with the country's leaders in education, science and the media, and made site visits to see federations' dollars at work.
"The conference's purpose was to keep people in the Renaissance Group's age range, 25 to 45, connected to our federations, give us an opportunity to meet each other, and create the next generation of leaders and philanthropists by engaging us firsthand in Israeli life. However, it was a conference mostly held outside the conference room. We were not there just as tourists.
"We saw up close how dollars we raise make a difference," he continued. "Our group was really touched by a visit to Bet Elazraki in Netanya, a home for children at risk." The home is funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee which receives Federation Community Fund dollars.
"These are kids who come from unstable homes who get a lot of love, a lot of nourishing and the therapy they need. The staff members are outstanding role models, and give these kids the opportunity to grow and prosper."
Cherry's connections to Israelis continued in a site trip to Netivot/Sedot Negev, Federation's Partnership 2000 communities. "I stayed in the home of a family in Netivot and was treated like family," he said. "We also toured the emergency facility funded by Federation and the Robert Saligman Early Childhood Development Center in Sedot Negev."
Cherry grew up in Elkins Park with his parents, twin sister and a brother. He became a Bar Mitzvah and was confirmed at Congregation Adath Jeshurun. His family continues to spend time together at Eagles games and at the beach, where he said three young nephews "liven things up."
A single who just moved into a Center City Condo, he earned an undergraduate degree at Philadelphia University.
Cherry got involved in Renaissance about five years ago, he said, "because I wanted to become more involved in the Jewish community and meet new people. And there are so many ways to do that like the Renaissance Power Hours where we hear from top business leaders in their fields and have an opportunity to network."
And what's his advice to others going to Israel for the first time?
"It's a great opportunity to see your heritage," he replied. "You learn about Israel in Hebrew school, read about it, and hear about it from family or friends who have gone. But to really appreciate it, you have to see the country and be part of it yourself."
The next Renaissance Group mission to Israel is scheduled June 26 to July 5. For more information, call 215-832-0828.