by Haya Luftig
Though it may seem like days if not weeks ago, our day today began with a series of lectures at our hotel. At 8:00 a.m we began with David Denker, Senior Associate of the Government Relations Israel Office of JFNA who advised mission members to remember that Jews in the world today are better off than at any point for 3000 years and not to over-exaggerate the threat posed by BDS. He urged attendees to think about Israel beyond “the dates of wars,” and insisted that the 50th celebrations approaching in 2017 would be a time of “pride” and “strength” for the country.
JCPA President David Bernstein urged attendees to remember three critical issues throughout the mission.
1. Political/security challenges, and our role
2. Social internal challenges facing Israel, and our role
3. Your personal relationship to Israel
Next up we heard from Vice Admiral (ret.) David Ben-Bashat, who promoted his nonpartisan vision of a “Security First” approach to the two-state solution. The basic assumptions and premises of “Security First” are:
1. A two-state solution is the only way for Israel to remain Jewish and Democratic
2. Good fences make good neighbors, and the physical separation of Israelis and Palestinians is a good thing
3. The current stagnation or “freeze” in dialogue between the two sides is harmful for Israel
4. Better living conditions of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians is essential
“Wasting time is a disaster for us and for them,” said Ben-Bashat.
Next, JCPA heard from Jonathan Shrier about the unique and productive economic relationship between Israel and the United States. A few key points:
1. Bilateral trade between Israel and USA is now $49 billion per year
2. the USA signed its first free trade agreement with Israel in 1985
3. Trade between the USA and Israel is constantly moving into new territory (such as the recent importation of Israel-approved Kosher beef)
4. Israel regularly hosts a parade of U.S. Congressional delegations in addition to many more smaller ones from the state-level.
At midday, our mission visited with Mr. Eli Nechama, principal of the Bialik Rogozin school, a facility dedicated to educating the children of refugees and migrants in Israel. The school boasts more than 1000 students from over 50 nations and has been highly successful in integrating students into the larger Israeli society. The school was featured in the Academy Award winning 2011 documentary “Strangers No More” and now serves as a model for European countries in the midst of their own refugee crisis.
For lunch, the JCPA Leadership Mission embarked to the Ethiopian restaurant Gojo for a taste of African Jewish cuisine and a panel discussion with the Ethiopian National Project and Ethiopian-Israeli Community Leaders.
Speakers for the event included
1. Roni Akele, Director-General for ENP for leadership, empowerment and activism
2. Naphtali Aklum, a young community leader
3. Rachamin Elazar, a radio news announcer
4. Abuye Abera, a local lay leader and teacher
Each speaker spoke about their life story and how the larger Ethiopian-Jewish community was faring in Israel. There is still a great degree of societal prejudice toward Ethiopians, with many Ethiopian Jews facing income inequality and stigma in the wider society. They spoke about their efforts to build coalitions and a better political network to enact the changes they needed to make.
“I wanted to say I was Jewish, but I was nervous because I had never spoken to a white person,” said Elazar, recalling one moment.
Next up was a trip to Tel Aviv University to take a walk through Jewish history and the history of the Jewish diaspora. Exhibits included an exploration of historic synagogues, the life and work of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan and stories from Israel’s immigrant community.
After stopping at the hotel to catch our breath — or sneak out for some shopping — our day concluded with a leisurely dinner at Loliyiot, a high end restaurant which employees and trains at-risk Israeli youth in the restaurant business. Over lamb, chicken, meatballs, and salad, mission members also heard from Ms. Michal Yudin and Efrat Yehudai. Yudin is the chairwoman of the non-profit, WePower, a nonpartisan interest group that strives to increase the gender diversity of Israel’s government.
“There is no way we can have social change without women at the table,” said Yudin who added the other following goals.
1. Train women to run for office regardless of party
2. Reach goal of 60 female members of the Knesset
3. Activate untapped political and organizational power of Israeli women