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2012 Archive

Small Towns, Big Hearts

December 18, 2012 at 1:23 PM

When people ask me where I am from, or more specifically, where I grew up, I almost always say, “Newport, Rhode Island.” Most people have heard of it, as it is a famous tourist destination and home to the oldest synagogue in the United States.

 

But I’m not really from Newport, it’s just an easier point of reference.  Although I lived in Newport until I was seven, I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in Middletown, the small community on Aquidneck Island that is just to the north of Newport.

 

Unlike Newport, Middletown isn’t well known. When I was growing up there, it was mostly farmland, where my friends’ parents tended dairy cows, grew potatoes, and raised nursery stock plants and shrubs for landscaping. Other parents worked for the Navy, which had a large base in Newport until 1972, or at the shipyard that supported the lobstermen and fishermen. They were small-town lawyers and accountants, like my dad. Everyone knew everyone else and had gone to school together for generations. 

 

We couldn’t have been more different than the wealthy summer people or even the tourists from all over the world who came to our island. We were just small town, hard-working people, not fancy, not glamorous.

 

Of course, what sets Middletown apart is the water. You can see the ocean or the Sakonnet River or Narragansett Bay from almost anywhere in town. There are beautiful beaches — Second Beach is one of the most beautiful on the East Coast, if I do say so myself.

 

With the water and the ocean come the threats of hurricanes. My grandparents and great-uncles and aunts told the story of the devastation from the Great Hurricane of 1938. My father risked his neck as a young man to get from one end of the island to the other during the 1956 hurricane, just to make sure my mother, his fiancée at that point, was okay and to bring her home to my grandparents from her work. I remember waiting to be evacuated during one of the hurricanes in the 1960s. Every time, we rebuilt, collected ourselves, relied on ourselves, and moved on.

 

This is one of the reasons I am so struck by the story of the small community of Union Beach, N.J.  Because it is a small town very much like Middletown. Union Beach is less then 45 minutes from the Greater MetroWest area. It is on the Jersey Shore, but it isn’t a vacation town. It is a town of hard-working people who live there year round. And it was more devastated by Hurricane Sandy than anything anyone in Middletown — or almost anywhere else — has ever seen. 

And Union Beach needs our help. Like the people I grew up with, these are not folks who like to ask for help. As Americans, we are raised to value the virtue of self-reliance. But this is bigger than what this small town can handle. 

Some 200 homes in Union Beach were destroyed. Of the remaining homes, 85 percent sustained flood damage to the inside of their homes. There were no fatalities in the town, but the size of the storm surge was unexpected and unprecedented. Portions of the town were under 10 feet of water. The municipality lost 14 police cars, 3 ambulances, and 4 fire trucks.  While these are words on paper, this video shows you the devastation up close.

In the wake of the storm, another small town reached out to see if it could help. Madison is also a small, bucolic New Jersey town, with a charming Main Street, townspeople who know one another and look out for each other. Madison Borough Mayor Robert Conley and Borough staff visited Union Beach on Thursday, November 29 to meet with Union Beach representatives.

On Tuesday, December 4, Madison Borough officials approached Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, asking us to partner with them to assist Union Beach. On Wednesday, December 5, Federation representatives took a tour of the devastation in Union Beach and began to provide aid.

 

What’s the connection between Union Beach and Greater MetroWest, other than that Madison Borough knew that we existed, knew our reputation as an organization with all kinds of resources to bear? And, quite frankly, what’s so Jewish about Union Beach?

 

I put this question to former Federation president Gary Aidekman, whose tenure was notable for bringing a renewed emphasis on areyvut — Jewish mutual responsibility — to the forefront of all that we do. Here’s what Gary had to say:

 

“Jews have a very special obligation to help each other. That does not, however, mean we can ignore the plight of others beyond the Jewish community. Super Storm Sandy was a catastrophe for many living along the New York/New Jersey shoreline regardless of religion or ethnicity. We should help...and we should do it as effectively as we can.

 

“By selecting Union Beach, a blue collar community with limited resources, Greater MetroWest can make a big difference through marshaling not only our financial resources but our emergency response infrastructure and our network of caring donors and volunteers. We can make a meaningful contribution of dollars, needed materials for rebuilding, and hours of hands on volunteer assistance.”

 

And this Sunday, just before Christmas, we have one of our first opportunities to provide that “hands on” volunteer help. We have organized a day of service there on Sunday, December 23, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. We will primarily be helping with salvage operations. As our current Federation president, Lori Klinghoffer asks, “What better way to spend your time than by providing concrete assistance to those who desperately need help? What better way of expressing our Jewish values of chesed, acts of loving-kindness, and tikkun olam, repairing the world?” And that’s what’s so Jewish about Union Beach.

 

All of the details for Sunday’s effort can be found on the Federation website as well as many other ways you can help with Hurricane Sandy relief. Many, many thanks to Stacey Brown, who is doing an amazing job coordinating our volunteer efforts, and who can be reached at sbrown@jfedgmw.org or (973) 929-3027 if you have any questions.

 

This will be an ongoing effort; this is not a recovery that will happen overnight and we intend to stick with the people of Union Beach and see them through. As in Israel, once we take on a partnership with a community, you can’t get rid of us! And speaking of Israel, not at all surprisingly, there is an effort starting in Israel, through Rabbi Joel Soffin, formerly from Greater MetroWest, and his foundation, Jewish Helping Hands, to bring together 20 people from Israel and New Jersey to do a week-long service project in Union Beach, building homes, building connections, and basing their work on Jewish text study.   

 

I can’t write about community and need and response without writing about one other small, close-knit community. Right after Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to speak to the campaign leadership of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. On the ride up to Hartford you pass the exit for Newtown. I’ve been there, and I thought to myself, “What a charming town that is. We should take a ride up there.” Well, now Newtown is in all of our hearts and minds and we have all taken the emotional ride to Newtown. How we all wish we could help there as well. 

 

Yesterday, my friend Lisa Fishman, who had invited me to speak in Hartford, shared a very moving piece by Michael Johnston, the CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Hartford. Here is what Michael had to say about community:

 

“In this day and age, some say that the idea of community is passé, is no longer relevant in a world that lives online. I beg to differ. As a people, sadly, we know what it means to live with unfathomable loss and for thousands of years we have survived by leaning on our faith and on each other. We know what it means to have a community that stands ready to provide a shoulder to lean on, a meal when eating no longer seems relevant, and companionship when we see no reason to go on. It is no accident that as a people we are not allowed to mourn alone. Where the legs of one may no longer be strong enough to stand, the arms of others can make sure we do not fall.”

 

Our hearts are with the community of Newtown, and we can take action in Union Beach. I hope to see you in Union Beach on Sunday.

 

Leslie

 

 

Federation – On the Ground in New Jersey and Israel

November 19, 2012 at 1:39 PM

What do you do when your family is in trouble? When your landscape has changed and the places you know and love are in danger? You wait and worry. You watch the news, read the news, you check in on Facebook (and Twitter, if you tweet.) And you rely on community to come through.

 

Hard to know if you’re worried about recovery from Sandy or the attacks on Israel, right? Well, I feel the same way. I feel like I am on constant alert. I missed most of the television coverage of Sandy, and now that I am reconnected with multi-media, I almost wish I weren’t. The pictures of the Jersey Shore, Staten Island, Queens, and Long Island take my breath away, three weeks later, because I am seeing them for the first time. The pictures and the news reports from Israel take my breath away for a different reason, because of the reports that blame Israel for defending itself.

 

My anxiety is relieved when I remember that our Jewish Federation community is on the ground in both places, helping with recovery and showing that we care.

 

Just this weekend, volunteers from Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ went to Long Beach Island to help with clean up at the synagogue and surrounding area. Again, the pictures are hard to take in. Half a house blown into the neighboring home. Another turned perpendicular to its foundation. The needs are everywhere   food banks are running empty and we are helping fill them, children are traumatized and our Jewish chaplains are comforting them, people need a little peace and we are making and delivering Shabbat packages.

 

And we, as part of Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), are on the ground in Israel. Our overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and World ORT are evacuating children from the south of Israel to safer places, caring for traumatized elderly who cannot leave their homes, and providing emergency kits and even distance learning for children whose schools are closed.

 

And sometimes it is words of support that help us, help us be aware and help us feel the community that surrounds us.

 

The reports from our Partnership 2Gether community of Ofakim, one of the cities in Israel with the most rockets aimed at it, both break my heart and make me proud. Our friend Yael Racov, who chairs the Alpha effort in Ofakim, wrote to us about the way this little development town is responding: “you would have been proud of the way Ofakim is facing this horrible situation. I have tears in my eyes: Ofakim might be a poor town that struggles with everyday troubles, but when it comes to difficult and stressful times Ofakim stands proud and capable.”

 

My friend Sandy Lenger is in Israel, representing National Women’s Philanthropy on a mission from the JFNA, and her words paint a clear picture for all of us from the tri-state area: “After experiencing Hurricane Sandy in New York and seeing (it) as a Tale of Two Cities...North of 39th Street was with power, food and heat, South of 39th Street was dark and cold and wet: I'm drawing a parallel here in Israel. Walking around Jerusalem by the Mamilla at night while trying to get more minutes for my phone and iPad, life doesn't seem to be interrupted (despite a rocket fired upon Jerusalem this past Friday night). Shops are open, people are at the cafes, and fortunately the David Citadel Hotel where we are based is welcoming many tour groups…As I arrived in Ben Gurion airport yesterday, I overheard an American tourist who was talking about his 'friends' who questioned why he would come to Israel now, under these extreme circumstances. His response was, 'if I have to explain it to you, then you won't understand.'"

 

And in an “only in Israel” moment, as I was writing this post, Sandy emailed me to let me know she was sitting next to Yael at dinner in Jerusalem, so I could let each of them know how much I am thinking of them and waiting for each of their emails and Facebook posts. One part of my Jewish community finding another part in some ways, not surprising, especially in a moment of crisis.

 

This weekend, at a family bar mitzvah, I was leafing through the excellent Reform siddur, Mishkan Tefilah, and came across the end of the prayer book, where the songs are, for Shabbat singing and for celebrations. I saw “Al Kol Eileh” and although I didn’t stop to read the lyrics in English, I have been humming the tune all weekend, into this Monday morning.

 

I took down my copy of Mishkan Tefilah and here is what the song asks for:

 

“Keep all of these safe, my good G-d: the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet. Do not uproot what has been planted; do not forget the hope. Return me, and I will return to the good land.”

 

May this be a song we can all sing. May we be thankful this week for what we have, not the least of which is our strong and vibrant Jewish community. May we all have hope, and may we return, to our good land, here in New Jersey and in Israel.

 

Wishing us all a Thanksgiving of hope and meaning,

Giving and Receiving Help

November 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Giving and receiving. Helping and being helped. Noise and silence. Dark and light. The contrasts of the past two weeks have and continue to be stark and compelling. For nine days, our house was a small island of light and heat, because of our generator, installed the week before Hurricane Sandy hit. I was happy to be a bed and breakfast, charging station, soup kitchen, and warming center.

 

When the lights went back on last Thursday night in my part of South Orange, I walked outside with our dog. It made me feel so good to see all of the lights surrounding me. My neighbors and friends would be able to come home. Homeowner's insurance will take care of the damage from trees. The cable, internet, and phone service will return, eventually. My little part of the world is going to be okay.

 

That's how we operate, first you make sure you and your family are safe. Then you make sure your neighbors and friends are safe. Then you look around and see what needs to be done next.

 

That's how I found myself at the independent living unit of Lester Senior Housing in Whippany, part of the network of senior housing provided by the Jewish Community Housing Corporation, serving a hot lunch to 50 senior adults with the SocialA Committee of my synagogue, Oheb Shalom Congregation.

 

How did my congregation find about the need at Lester Senior Housing? Because our social action co-chair, Amy Sadeghi, is also a Women's Philanthropy volunteer. She called Federation, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, to see what was needed. And then Stacey Brown, the Federation staff person Amy spoke with, asked if our congregation needed anything. And, in fact, we did. Oheb Shalom operates the Bobrow Family Kosher Food Pantry and we were already running low on much needed food. So Stacey got the word out on Facebook and donations have started to come in. 

 

This is one small story of giving and receiving, helping and being helped. In the last week, I have heard story after story about how our Federation, partner agencies, and synagogues acted immediately to meet the needs of our community.

 

Both JCCs and the Green Lane Y opened their doors (actually, the Y never closed!) to the community for adult and kids' programming, places to charge up and connect our devices — and ourselves!

 

Our two Jewish Family Services were our first responders, working through emergency phone lines provided by Federation's IT department when regular lines went down. Our day schools served additional meals to those without power. Our synagogues opened their doors to other congregations without power, to the community to come in, emblematic of the Jewish value of hospitality to strangers. 

 

All of these institutions will be needed in the days and months and even, I'm afraid to say, years ahead, as we assess how to strengthen our safety net, meet the needs of those who lost homes and businesses, and rebuild for the future. Here's where there is more giving and receiving, needing help and giving help. Jewish Federations of North America — 155 federations across the United States and Canada — have raised $1 million for Hurricane Sandy relief, some of which has already come to Greater MetroWest. And when the power is fully back, and the needs are assessed, we will need to help ourselves as well.  

 

As I stood in my backyard last Thursday night, I was grateful for the light brought to my neighborhood through restored power lines. And I was even more grateful for the light I knew was being brought to our community by the gemilut chasidim (acts of loving-kindness), from one person to another that is eternally the source of light in this world.

 

I hope you are safe and warm and recovering. If you need help, or if you want to help, we are here.

 

Leslie

Why I Love What I Do

October 24, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Almost every day since I started as chair of the UJA General Campaign, I am reminded of why I love what I am doing, and why I am so inspired by the work we do. This week was just one more example.

 

On Tuesday, I spoke at a Women’s Philanthropy event for the Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren County. The Women’s Philanthropy there supports Amutat Havaya of Merchavim, a center for the elderly (mostly women), who have lived their lives on the moshavim (agricultural collectives) that make up much of the Merchavim Regional Council. 

 

As many of you know, Merchavim/Ofakim comprise one of our Partnership2Gether regions; it is a place I have visited many times and that is now, thanks to the Legow Family Israel Program Center and especially the efforts of the Peoplehood Project, a familiar and welcoming place to many, many teens and adults here in Greater MetroWest. 

 

Because of our long-standing connection to Merchavim, I was asked to make a presentation about Amutat Havaya and tell a personal story about one of the participants. Amutat Havaya is a non-profit, volunteer-run center where seniors come for breakfast, classes, and companionship. They work together to make handcrafts — blankets, challah covers, hand-knit sweaters — to support the center.

 

I knew from my own experience that most of the women at the center are originally from North African Jewish communities in Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. What hadn’t really occurred to me, until I read the stories I received this week, was that these women and their husbands were truly pioneers who helped turn the Negev from desert to productive farmland.

 

My picture of the halutzim (pioneers) has always centered on the young men and women who left pogroms in Eastern Europe to drain swamps and start kibbutzim, establishing a picture of Jews as a strong, self-determining people. That is a truth, but only part of the picture.

 

What I was reminded of in these stories is how, immediately after the State of Israel was founded, Israel had to take in tens of thousands of refugees from North African Jewish communities where Jews were being persecuted and forced out. These immigrants were deposited around the periphery of the young state, and especially in the Negev. 

 

I read the stories of three women, Phoebe, Batya, and Dalya. They came to the Negev from difficult circumstances in Morocco, Iran, and Egypt as young women or children and landed, literally in the middle of the night in some cases, in the Merchavim region. They lived in tents, with no running water or electricity. Eventually they all had small homes, worked the land beside their husbands, raised families, and are all now retired. 

 

After these long, difficult, life journeys, Amutat Havaya provides a place of respite, a place of warmth and connection. I could easily picture tables of women sitting together knitting, sewing, talking, and looking out for each other. 

 

And I realized that this is a picture I have seen over and over in the Jewish world. I have visited senior centers in Cherkassy, Havana, Budapest, Prague, Odessa, and across Israel. They all provide meals, group exercise, craftwork, companionship, and most of all, warmth and dignity. They are sponsored by the JDC, Jewish Agency, and individual communities which all share the same value — “honor thy father and mother.” 

 

Lining the shelves of my office are dolls made at a senior center in Havana, a tzedakah box knitted by an Ethiopian woman in Israel, pottery from the Beit Grand JCC in Odessa, and many more tchotchkes, all made more meaningful because they are not tourist souvenirs but a connection to an elder of the Jewish community with a story to tell and a life to cherish.

 

I also realized that I have a very special senior center, close to me in geography and close to my heart, which has many things in common with the senior centers I’ve visited around the Jewish world, but with one difference. I am talking about my friends at the Margulies Senior Center at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange. They also meet for exercise of the mind and the body; they have lunch, talk, knit, play cards, and look out for each other. 

 

But the Margulies seniors do one more thing, one extraordinary thing. They are part of the UJA Annual Campaign, and as part of the campaign, their dollars help support the senior centers I’ve mentioned and the countless others our dollars make possible. 

 

I can’t wait to see my Margulies Senior Center friends on Super Sunday, December 2, and I can’t wait to see you there also!

 

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead,

Leslie

You and Me and the Zionist Dream

August 07, 2012 at 1:22 PM

Dear Amir,

 

With all of the brouhaha (or balagan?) last week regarding the Global Planning Table and Zionism I was reminded of our ongoing conversation about what it means to be a Zionist, especially for those of us who are Zionists but live outside the State of Israel. 

 

Leslie Dannin Rosenthal in Israel – 1971
Leslie Dannin Rosenthal in Israel – 1977
When you and I were growing up, in the relatively early years of the state, to be a Zionist meant believing in the right of the Jews to our own homeland and to live in that homeland. And, indeed, when I finally went to Israel in the summer of 1977, I called home and told my mother, “I think I’m going to stay.”

 

My mother suggested that it would be better to finish college and then go back. Well, I finished college, but I didn’t get back to Israel until 1996 on the Just Do It Young Women’s Mission to Israel — while you were here in MetroWest on shlichut (your service as an emissary).

 

I was overcome on that mission with how happy I was to be “home” in Israel, and overwhelmed by my regret at having somehow failed to make aliyah, to have done what I meant to do when I was 20. A very wise young man, our tour guide for the mission, saw my distress and gave me very good advice. He said, “Leslie, Israel doesn’t need any more lawyers. It’s much more important for Israel for you to go back to New Jersey and share your passion with everyone there.” And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

 

I’ve resolved my personal issues about living as a Zionist in the Diaspora by going to Israel as often as I can, reading the English version of Israeli newspapers online, and doing the work I do as a volunteer. I don’t know if that would have worked for Ze’ev Jabotinsky, but it works for me. 

 

What I had to reconcile was my feeling of somehow not really having “paid my dues” — that there are experiences I have not had which you have. I never served in the IDF, nor have I had to contend with sending my children to the army.

 

But you know that I worry about your boys, about my friend Deborah’s kids. You know that when a kassam (rocket) lands in Ofakim, it may as well be landing in my backyard. And yet — we don’t actually hear the siren and I don’t have to call my mother in Massachusetts in the same way that you need to check on your parents in Ashkelon; I am simply on the other side of the ocean, worried.

 

We struggled with this issue when we entered into our Partnership Renewal process, where we re-imagined the relationship between American Jews in MetroWest and Israeli Jews in the Ofakim/Merchavim region. I don’t think I will ever forget how much we learned from each other, Americans and Israelis both, in the course of one very lively discussion about why we American Jews care so much about what happens to Israel and what happens in Israel. 

 

It’s that shared sense of commitment to a strong Jewish state that I call Zionism. Sometimes we call it “peoplehood,” although there is an implicit statement there that says that Israelis care about what is happening to Jews in the Diaspora, which is outside the traditional notions of Zionism (and a topic for another letter!)

 

Because I am a Zionist, I care about what happens in Beit Shemesh, and on public buses and at the Western Wall — because a strong Israel requires that all Jews feel recognized as such. Because I am a Zionist, I care about Israeli politics, because a strong Israel requires the best possible leadership. Because I am a Zionist, I stand against a nuclear Iran, against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and against all who would do harm to Israel.

 

I could go on and on — but at the bottom of all of this is also a selfish reason to be a Zionist and to want a strong Jewish state. Amir, you and I were born only a short time after the birth of Israel. We never knew a world without it. But somewhere in my soul, as the grandchild of immigrants who came to the Goldina Medina instead of the Promised Land, I fear that I am still at risk. 

 

I need a strong Israel in case I need a strong Israel as a personal place of refuge. I know this is old-fashioned thinking; I know intellectually that I am safe here in the United States. And then I think of all of the Austrian and German Jews who thought the same thing, and make sure I know where my passport is.

 

Here’s the  thing though — even if my fears are baseless, and the aliyah of rescue is, for the most part, completed, what then compels the next generation to be Zionists? What about the kids? Not only are you and I the same age (well, okay, you are a little bit younger) but our kids are the same age, albeit with very different experiences. Do your sons stop to think about whether they are Zionists? Do my kids even think about whether Zionism is a part of their identity? Another letter!

 

What I do know is that we are doing so many wonderful things in all parts of our community that make Israel a home in our hearts, if not in everyday life. We have already affirmed in our work on the merger that we are a Zionist federation. The Peoplehood Project, our robust program of shlichut, a vibrant staff in Israel, our amazing teen programs, and real friendships up and down the State of Israel are the living proof. 

 

So Greater MetroWest — from West Orange to Westfield, Sussex County to Scotch Plains, Horfeish to Kibbutz Erez, Rishon LeZion on to Arad — can say with conviction, “We are one.” 

 

We are the lucky ones, the ones who know the deep feelings of pride and love for Israel and who have the ability and desire to help others see what we see. Whether that means religious pluralism efforts in Israel for Israelis looking for a deeper connection or a teen’s connection to a rishon or rishonah (counselor) that leads to a greater connection to Israel, we are building the Zionist dream.

 

I’ve written way more than I intended to write; clearly it is a subject dear to my heart. But I’m also more than a little bit Israeli, so enough with the words — kadima!

 

With love to you, Vered, and the boys,

Leslie

 

- - - - -

 

Leslie,

 

Shalom. I was very moved to receive your letter over the weekend. Indeed you and I have carried out these “Zionist conversations” for many years but we have never taken them to theoretical and academic spheres. They were always based on our personal experiences, family dilemmas, community involvement, and own individual identities.

 

However, through this dialogue we immediately came up with this discovery: you and I are the mirror image of the same exact concept. The stories of our lives and the way they are intertwined are the ultimate proof of the notion. There are many ways to be a Zionist and there are countless means to express it.

 

When we were both growing up in the ‘60s, (yes, I am three months younger than you but no one can tell) our parents did not bother themselves or us with the important but irrelevant question of “who is a Zionist?”

 

Whether it was in Middletown, R.I., or Kibbutz Shiller, they were too busy raising their families and building their lives. In school (Sunday for you and public for me) we learned that our shared Zionist dream was fulfilled and that we need to make every effort to make it viable and sustainable. It was good enough back then.

 

Amir Shacham – 1977
Amir Shacham – 1977
When we were 20 years old, it suddenly caught us. We both realized that the Jewish world and the Zionist endeavor are larger and more complex than what we thought and were taught. You look at the summer of 1977 and your first visit to Israel as a turning point. You fell in love, you wanted to make aliyah and felt strongly that you, I, and our people were one, although we had not yet met.

The summer of 1977 was an eye opener for me as well. I was a young commander in the IDF and I had to explain to my soldiers, the new recruits, why it is essential for them, their country, and for the Jewish people to serve a meaningful military service. They were a year or two younger than me but I felt the burden of Jewish history on my tiny shoulders.

 

It was few months after the heroic Operation Entebbe, the beginning of the historic peace talks with Egypt, and not less important, the first ever European championship for Maccabee Tel Aviv. Like you, Leslie, that summer I felt high in the sky and was in a very romantic mode. We were both living the Zionist dream in our own ways and in our own worlds.

 

I have to admit, though, that in retrospect I was much harder to get. I am not sure what exactly I was thinking or preaching but it is very likely that I assertively communicated to my soldiers something like: “in order to be a full Zionist one needs to live in Israel.” This is how most of us looked at it back then. You and I had to wait 20 more years in order to cross ways and minds.

 

In 1996 you returned to Israel on a UJA Mission, and I came to MetroWest as a community shaliach (emissary). Everything in our lives was then different. We were both personally and professionally mature. Gone were the romantic black-and-white attitudes and the assertive preaching. We already had kids who were the same age and we needed to develop a new perspective. The American Jewish community and the State of Israel were also very different in so many ways, compared to the ‘70s.

 

However, my goal as a shaliach and your goal as a mission participant were very similar. We wanted to make sure that our families and communities will continue to live the same dream. We aimed to connect Israel and Diaspora Jewry in ways that empower and protect each other. We realized that the best way to do it is by developing personal connections and emphasizing the mutual common ground. We understood that the Jewish and Zionist identities of our people could, and perhaps should, be diverse and pluralistic.

 

Sandy Hollander, Amir Shacham, Leslie Dannin Rosenthal
Sandy Hollander, Amir Shacham,
Leslie Dannin Rosenthal
The rest is history. Both of us, Leslie, are frequent passengers on the living bridge that connects our communities and makes us become one people. We don’t need to discuss or debate our mutual commitment to a strong Israel and a vibrant Greater MetroWest, nor to the concept of Zionism. It is proven in our daily lives on both sides of the ocean.

 

The real challenge, however, is the next generation — our young adult kids. How do we keep them living the dream that has already become a reality? I have few ideas. I am sure you do as well. Let’s continue the dialogue.

 

Drishat Shalom,

 

Amir


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