To ensure that the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Overseas addresses Israel's priorities today, has impact on them and supports the Jewish homeland, its Center for Israel and overseas manages a full-time office in Jerusalem.
However, having an office in Israel is just one-half of the equation when it comes to Federation's ability to keep its finger on Israel's pulse. The second half is the three Israeli emissaries, or shlichim, who are members of the center staff in Federation's Philadelphia office.
"Federation has more shlichim on staff than ever before," said Jeri Zimmerman, director of the center. "Through them and Meir Charash, the face of Federation in Israel, we are able to strengthen relations between Greater Philadelphia's Jewish community and Israel like never before. Personal connections are the lasting connections. Building these people-to-people relationships with Israel is the best way to ultimately support Israel."
The idea of having an everyday presence in Israel began in the early 1980s, around the same time as the inception of Project Renewal, where Federation partnered with the communities of Ramat Shikma, Ramat Gan, Tel Giborim and Holon, and the Barrer Art Center in Ma'alot.
"Though the original goal of Project Renewal was to improve distressed neighborhoods, another result was the strengthening of Israel-Diaspora relations," explained Charash, the center's director of Israel programs, who represents Federation in Israel on a daily basis. "We were also developing and sustaining meaningful, ongoing relationships with these communities. Most major Federations now have a community representative in Israel."
Today, Project Renewal has given way to Federation's Partnership 2000 community, Netivot/Sedot Negev. Federation, especially through its office in Jerusalem, supports this region in Israel through projects that strengthen the community, and promotes connections between Netivot/Sedot Negev and Greater Philadelphia."
In December alone, Charash will welcome three missions to Israel, and take them to the partnership region to introduce them to the people of Netivot/Sedot Negev.
Having an office in Israel also enables Federation, through Charash, to visit organizations that it supports and ensure that those agencies are providing effective aid. Charash also establishes relationships on behalf of Federation with agency staff, and determines if there are other opportunities to help Israel through these partner organizations. He also provides regular reports on the agencies to the Center For Israel and Overseas.
Back here, the mission of Federation's shlichim is to "connect the next generation for Jews here to Israel," according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which runs the community shlichim program in which Federation participates.
The shlichim have worked closely with Greater Philadelphia synagogues, synagogue schools, day schools, community centers, college campuses, and youth and student organizations to educate younger community members about the significance of Israel and by bringing Israeli cultural and awareness to the community.
According to Talia Lidar, the community shlicha, Federation's shlichim come from different areas of Israel and from different backgrounds, and that "all of us together present different faces of Israel and promote an understanding of Israel."
"We bring the current Israel to Greater Philadelphia," said Lidar. "We are the voice of the Israeli people."
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