by Vivian Henoch

Twenty-five years in the making. Two years to plan. “Next time, let’s not take so long.”

That was the consensus after the five-day meet-up of Jewish Detroiters and their counterpart cohort of 10 Israelis representing the next generation of leadership in Federation’s Partnership 2Gether (P2G) Region of Israel’s Central Galilee.

By the definition of “Mifgash”- the loosely translated Hebrew word for a “meeting”- Federation’s P2G Detroit-Israel exchange program is a new development, still working on its definitive branding and strategies for growth and support. The concept of mifgash, however, is well grounded in Federation’s Israeli Camper Program at Tamarack Camps, Teen Missions, Detroit Birthright Israel and other collaborative programs sharing the resources of both communities.

A partnership more like family

“For many Jewish Detroiters, the Central Galilee in Israel feels like a second home,” says Randi Sakwa, incoming Associate Chair of the Partnership 2Gether Steering Committee. Now in its 25th year, the Partnership started as a Jewish Agency program pairing three Michigan communities, Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, with three municipalities in Israel, Migdal HaEmek, Nazareth Illit and the Jezreel Valley. The program originally was designed to address critical needs in Israel. In 2002, during the summer of the Second Intifada,Federation devised the bold plan to create a ‘reverse mission’ for teens, bringing “Israel home to Michigan” by providing more than 300 Israelis a camping experience at Tamarack. “Through the years, P2G has connected hundreds of young people and their families in reciprocal visits to both Michigan and in Israel,” Randi added. “Today, we are more than partners. We are a family, inspired to connect our next generation.”

From strangers to family in five days.

Ask anyone who has experienced the camaraderie of travel-and-tour Federation-style. Things happen fast. First impressions last and friendships endure.

“Our reverse mission was an incredibly successful first step in building a lasting partnership between young adults in the Metro Detroit area and our partnership region in Israel,” observed Kate Kurzmann, co-chair of the Mifgash. “The cohort of about 25 people spent six days exploring our community here and getting to know one another better. The highlights of the trip were a visit to Hillel Day School, Shabbat in the sukkah at Chabad in the D, two incredible dinners hosted by members of our community and working sessions where the group took time to get to know each other as individuals as well as learn about our respective communities to build a sustainable, trust-based relationship.”

The take-aways

For some it was a first taste of Detroit.  For others, the visit was a welcome return to friends in the community, made over the years while working in various roles at Tamarack Camps and on the campuses of U of M, Wayne State and MSU.  Here are just a few of their comments:

On leadership development in the P2G program

“We had an amazing week. Two years ago, we were at a crossroads with our young adult programming. To see and hear the enthusiasm for our next steps now has proven beyond a doubt that there’s the need for the work we’re doing. Meeting community leaders – hearing how the Partnership started and where NEXTGen Detroit is going –  that was inspirational.  Our meeting made us think about what we want to go back and do in Israel.” – Noa Noff, Jezreel Valley, Israel Dirctor, P2G

 “I think the time is right, and we’ve hit he right age to approach young adults.  We’ve reached a point where we’ve established our career paths,started families, started thinking about our values and giving back to our communities.”  – Yoav Raban, Jezreel Valley, Federation’s Israel Grants and Engagement Coordinator

On giving back and philanthropy

We see a cultural difference between Israeli and American distinctions between volunteering, social action and philanthropy. Israelis will jump on a plane to volunteer all over the world; but the philanthropy is less defined as a goal. Through collaboration, we can learn together.”  – Oren Stern, Timrat, attorney and manager of Stern, his family-owned real estate company

On Jewish identity

“What an adventure this week has been. My sister was on Birthright trip and we had a bunch of Michigan kids stay over at our house, so when I heard there was a young adult partnership start-up, I decided, I’m all in!  I own an outdoor kitchen design business with my father, in ShimShit, a 550-family community soon to become a part of Federation’s P2G Region. My main take-away: what it means to be a Jew in Israel is very different than what we see in America. I envy the streams of Judaism that I think Americans have the choice to practice. This community shows a beautiful part of Judaism. It shows that you don’t have to be religious to be Jewish. You can drive on Shabbat, your kids can have a Jewish education and be involved in a way of life that is not “traditional” as we define it. That would get me motivated, because my generation – our generation– worries about that.  – Barak Hashmonai, Shimshit, business owner, Oasis Outdoor Kitchens and Regional Sales Manager, Electra

 On community building

“In Israel, being Jewish is not the hook. Getting two Jews together for coffee is not going to build a community. We need to be careful how we translate the Federation model to our own community. Something to remember is that it’s okay to have the element of self-interest in the pitch. People want to know what’s in our organization for them. I think we need to be prepared to try a lot of different tactics, some will stick, as long as we stick to it.”Naveh Masad, Kibbutz Ein Dor, CEO of the Israeli Monetary Change Movement

“We must advocate for ourselves more training and leadership development.” – Rotem Raiter, Givat Ela,Municipalities Consulting, former Israel Fellow at MSU Hillel

“Federation’s NEXTGen outreach is a great model. We cannot take the model for granted. I would also emphasize that if you want to grow something to a certain scale, it takes more than volunteers. you need the resources, the staffing, funding.”  – Eviatar Baksis, Migdal Ha’Emek, formerly a Shaliach for Federation and Hillel Metro Detroit; among first participants in the Israel Camper Program in 2002;

Watching everyone on Friday night, you would never guess many of us just met the day before. It’s like we are all connected in this weave.”  – Liraz Baksis, Migdal Ha’Emek;  Mifgash Co-Chair, formerly the Schlica  at U of M; Regional Director, the International Youth Award

For more information about Partership 2Gether’s Detroit-Israel connections, contact Dona Stillman, P2G Coordinator, / 248-833-2527