Talk about Israel and we can talk about everything under the sun: from the victory of the Maccabees and the miracle of lights to drip irrigation and the invention of cell phones. In lively and unending discourse, we take pride in Israel as the ultimate startup nation. We love sharing the stories of its pioneer days, its green power, its phenomenal socioeconomic growth, its high tech industry, medical marvels and military prowess.

Talk about Israel in Jewish Detroit and the conversation easily turns to personal experience. Who among us has left a prayer at The Wall, climbed Masada, hopped on a bus on a Detroit community mission or rediscovered Israel through the eyes of a 13-year-old celebrating a Bar Mitzvah?

And did you know? There’s a Detroit Square in Nazareth Illit. Dedicated in 2010, the square symbolizes the close relationship between the students and teaching staff of Gilad School and Congregation Beth Shalom’s Religious School in Oak Park.

This is what we talk about when we talk about “Our Israel.”

Beyond the itinerary for tourists, there is the Israel thousands of Michiganians have come to know as home. This is our Israel, “up north” in the lush, fertile plain and inland Jezreel Valley.  We call it our Partnership 2Gether Region of the Central Galilee — P2G for short. P2G is where our connections are made and sustained. People to people. Face to face.

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Now in its 20th year, our partnership in this region is more like a family. Working relationships have grown and deepened into personal friendships. Visits now feel more like homecomings and reunions.

Since 1994, three Michigan communities – Metropolitan Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids – have partnered with three municipalities in Israel — Migdal HaEmek, Nazareth Illit and the Jezreel Valley. One of 46 Jewish Agency P2G Region partnerships, the program originally was established to address and support socioeconomic needs in Israel. Today, P2G continues to support educational initiatives, striving to sustain long-lasting relationships, bringing Israelis and Michiganians together through a variety of collaborative programs and shared resources for the benefit of both communities.

Missions and exchanges continue to be a primary focus of P2G. “Our goal is to build connections through experiences,” says Betsy Heuer, P2G Michigan Steering Committee. “By putting peers together and giving a face to the communities in both the P2G Region and in Michigan, we have grown into partners that function more like close friends and family.”

A significant factor in promoting deeper community connections has been the Federation’s Israel Camper Program. Celebrating its 13th Bar Mitzvah Year at Tamarack Camps this summer, the program has brought to Michigan more than 1,200 Israeli youngsters in the 7th and 8th grades and teen counselors to enjoy what many have described as a life-changing experience. And the Michigan families who have participated in the program by hosting Israeli youngsters in their home have made lasting friendships in Israel.

Welcome to Michigan!  Israeli campers enjoy a picnic with host families

Welcome to Michigan! Israeli camper, Shani Eshto from Migdal HaEmek is all smiles at a picnic with the youngest member of her host family, Aden Opperer. (Aden’s parents are Josh and Rachel.)

With relationships that begin in summer camp, teens and young adults in both communities have further opportunities to connect and engage through Federation’s Teen Mission program (for ages 15-18), Detroit Community Birthright trips (geared for college students and grads, ages 20-26) as well as a wide range of community-supported, work-study-volunteer fellowship programs in Israel.

Next? Young Leadership Development

As a natural outcome of the focused activity in which the community has engaged over the years, the P2G Region of the Central Galilee has created a Young Adult Forum, drawing from more than 100 young Israeli adults who have had prior connections to Jewish Detroit through their experiences as Tamarack alumni, counselors on Teen Missions or as participants in Detroit Community Birthright trips.

“The Young Adult Forum in Israel is an exciting new development that has taken root from the Community Birthright experience where we have worked to cultivate meaningful cultural exchanges and synergies between the young adults in both communities,” observes Mark Kowalsky, Chair of Federation’s Israel and Overseas Department. “As is the case in Detroit, young adults in Israel are taking on a broad spectrum of community service projects, bringing a new entrepreneurial spirit and energy to both rebuilding urban areas and creating future leadership. What we are seeing now is a new generation – of Israelis and Detroiters –  social entrepreneurs and young leaders seeking connections to one another, ready to network, collaborate and help one another reenergize their respective and joint community building efforts.”

Stay tuned.

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