Opinion: Our Israel70 Year of Connectioin


By Naomi Adler

This year, we at the Jewish Federation approached Israel’s 70th anniversary with a lofty goal: to create a way for everybody in our diverse communities to connect with Israel.

It would be a year’s worth of political and cultural programming in which everyone would be welcome, whether they wanted to celebrate the miracle of Israel’s existence, understand Israel more deeply, grapple with its evolution, or any combination therein. A crazy idea in this environment? Perhaps.

But one year, dozens of events and one #SnowCamel later, it seems as though it was just crazy enough to have worked to engage many more members of our communities.

We kicked off Israel70 with in-depth discussions about Israel’s realities, including with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, and a three-week run of the award-winning play Wrestling Jerusalem, which highlights the multiple perspectives that make up Israeli society today.

We learned from Israeli minorities in our Changemakers lecture series; put Israel’s gorgeous diversity on display with the photo exhibit “Humans of Tel Aviv”; and recorded stories of your relationships with Israel with “My Israel Story.” Our Jewish Philly podcast was packed with Israel features, including an interview with Israel Gay Youth, an LGBTQ nonprofit that helps create welcoming environments across all
Israeli populations.

Incredibly, there was more.

We made history with the first-ever Israeli flag-raising at Philadelphia City Hall. We sent record numbers of Greater Philadelphians to Israel, including our historic Philadelphia Orchestra mission coupled with their Israel tour. At our 70th anniversary party held in the suburbs, 5-6-70 Israel!, thousands gathered to celebrate Israel through art, music, food, crafts and dance.

And to cap off the year we held an Israel-themed Main Event, where although an unexpected snowstorm thwarted a visit from a camel from a local petting zoo — and turned him into an internet sensation — we gathered to pay homage to our unique Israel experiences through decades of Jewish Federation missions. There, keynote speaker Avi Issacharoff, Israeli journalist and co-creator of the Netflix show Fauda, reminded us of how important it is, when engaging around the subject of Israel, to never lose sight of other people’s humanity.

Our Jewish Federation has strongly supported Israel since our founding in 1901 — back when Israel was merely a hopeful dream — and our dedication to Israel is reflected in just about everything we do.

That dedication includes rushing to the aid of the Israeli people in times of crisis, as we did this past summer when Gazan firebombs turned our Partnership2Gether region into an inferno; in a flash, we raised emergency funds to supply our region with trauma counseling, air conditioners for bomb shelters and firefighting vans.

Our dedication to Israel includes facilitating the recent dedication of a much-needed maternity wing at Sdot Negev’s Saligman Center (with many thanks to the Saligman family).

And our dedication to Israel means we never shy away from conversations about Israel, including when those conversations arise within our own communities. I am proud that our Israel70 year reflected the breadth of our communities’ diversity of opinion; that our community members engaged with great enthusiasm; and that we emerged having built bridges not only between our communities and Israel, but also between our communities and one another.

As a Jewish community, we may have a wide array of views on the state of Israel. But on this we can all agree: We remain dedicated to using our collective voices to help Israel continue to evolve as an inclusive, resilient and peaceful society.

I thank everyone who participated in Israel70 this year, and I look forward to continuing the conversation in 2019. l

Naomi Adler is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.


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