In Sam Katz’s crystal ball, Netivot, one of two southern Israeli communities linked to Philadelphia’s Jewish community, will become an arts and cultural mecca in the not-too-distant future.
Katz, co-chair of Federation’s Partnership2Gether (P2G) initiative along with Barry Feinberg, received support for this vision from two prominent Philadelphians who know firsthand the power of cultural entrepreneurism to transform communities.
Jane Golden, executive director of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Commission, and Gary P. Steuer, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, were keynote speakers at the first annual Cultural Entrepreneurship Conference, held in Netivot on Dec. 24.
The conference, which was co-hosted by neighboring Sapir College, also featured presentations by Limor Livnat, Israel’s minister of culture, Jewish Agency Executive Director Natan Sharansky, Federation CEO Ira M. Schwartz and Netivot Mayor Yechiel Zohar, who Katz describes as “forward thinking and innovative.”
Katz said that Zohar has made a $50,000 commitment to construct Israel’s first Mural Arts Commission project, to be erected atop the community’s six-paneled water tower. The mural will be created by local artists under Golden’s supervision and will be a testament to the community’s cultural diversity.
Golden’s initial sketches call for each artist to focus on the contributions of the Moroccan, Tunisian, Russian and Ethiopian emigres, as well as native-born Israelis, known as sabras, who have enriched the community through their arts and cultural contributions. Zohar has promised to ensure that the mural is completed by December 2013 when the second annual conference is slated to convene.
Many of these local artisans showcased and sold their creations during an exhibition in Netivot’s public library, across the street from the conference center. Sales were booming, thanks in large part to the visits of the more than 200 Philadelphians who visited Netivot as participants in the 2012 Federation Mega Mission.
Each Mega Mission participant received a copy of The Jewish Kitchen Diaries: A Journey Through Time and Culture, a collaborative cookbook connecting women in the Spices Cooking Group in Netivot and Sedot Negev and their counterparts in Philadelphia. The book, which was the brainchild of Tracy Ginsburg and Bunny Levyn of the P2G Joint Steering Committee, was unveiled during the conference. It was designed as a celebration of the 14-year partnership between the two communities.
Sales from the book, which contains multiethnic recipes for Shabbat and Jewish holiday celebrations, will benefit the women who belong to the cooking group, a cooperative created by Netivot’s Social Services Department as a tool for women’s empowerment and economic development. Group members offer a variety of catering services to local businesses and community organizations and often host visitors to the region.
The conference, which took two years to orchestrate, reflects the desire by Katz and Feinberg — both of whom come from a business background — to change the dynamics in Federation’s relationship with Netivot and Sedot Negev from a “social service” to “economic incubator” model.
Jeri Zimmerman, director of Federation’s Center for Israel and Overseas, said the conference illustrated the P2G Committee emphasis on projects that “promote innovations that create jobs and develop the amenities to make the area an attractive place to live and work” — as well as on agricultural research and development. Federation, she noted, provides substantial funding to this partnership: $480,000 during the 2011-12 funding cycle.
“We want to encourage business development in the region using a model that has met with great success in the City of Philadelphia,” said Katz, who believes that the population of Netivot could potentially double as visitors view the region as a center of arts and culture.
In Sedot Negev, an agricultural community of two kibbutzim and 10 moshavim, Partnership2Gether resources have helped strengthen educational programming in science and mathematics. Kindergarten students are learning complex science concepts using state of the art computer software. Orthodox girls have a science curriculum designed to meet their specific needs, and the entire community is benefiting from a newly established research and development laboratory for agriculture.
To help the region achieve its goals, Federation helped to fund a survey of more than 100 entrepreneurs in the region, conducted by Praxis, a Tel Aviv-based organizational development and marketing company. The results lend credence to Katz and Feinberg’s optimism for the region.
“Through P2G support,” said Katz, “we want to rebrand this region as diverse in ethnicity, rich in culture with unlimited potential for growth and development.”
For more information about Partnership2Gether, and to order a copy of The Jewish Kitchen Diaries: A Journey Through Time and Culture at a cost of $30, call Jeri Zimmerman, director of Federation’s Center for Israel and Overseas, at 215-832-0553 or email: [email protected] .