By David Zenlea
Israel, more than any other place in the world, holds a lot of meaning to a lot of people. The hope of two thousand years; the first flowering of our redemption; the Startup Nation; the Homeland.
This is, of course, part of what makes Israel special. Yet, in the mix of all that it represents, the actual state can sometimes get lost.
“It’s one of the most fascinating places on the planet,” says Rich Broder. “Whether you’re a deeply religious or spiritual person, if you’re interested in Zionism, history, archaeology, Christianity, Islam…there’s something there for everybody.”
A desire to engage with Israel as a country, people, and culture—and not just as a cause célèbre—drives Lisa and Rich Broder’s service to the Detroit Jewish community. And they do a lot of work. Rich co-chairs the Federation’s Israel and Overseas Allocation committee and sits on the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel-North American Council. Lisa sat on the committee for Partnership2Gether (P2G), which works with Detroit’s sister region, the Central Galilee, and was recently a co-chair of the Sue & Alan Kaufman Family Teen Mission. She also just joined the Midwest Advisory Council for the Birthright Israel Foundation.
The Broders co-chair the upcoming Motor City Mission, a community-wide trip to Israel planned for next spring. Mind you, all this is in addition to family (two children, both grown) and careers—Rich is a partner at Broder & Sachse Real Estate; Lisa is a former attorney and teacher and is currently a math tutor.
Last and perhaps closest to their hearts, the Broders have been deeply involved in bringing Israelis to Detroit to serve as emissaries [Shlichim]. They grew exceptionally close to shlicha Nina Yahalomi Klevitsky during her time here, and still talk and visit regularly. “We now have family [in Israel], said Lisa. “And it’s amazing.”
We sat down with the Broders in their Bloomfield Hills home to learn where their passion comes from, what American and Israeli Jews can learn from each other—and the best place to grab hummus in Jerusalem.
A changing country—and constant love
Rich: Israel has changed a lot. Back in 1972 [when Broder first visited], they weren’t necessarily as westernized as they are today. You had to worry about the water and the food. Now, not only do you not have to worry about the water and the food, it’s some of the best food on the planet!
But in terms of my perspective, I remember everything about that trip, and I was 11 years old. Everything that I liked then is what I like every time I’m there now. You can pick your subject matter—food, culture, geopolitics, religion, history, archaeology—it is beyond fascinating, and it’s endless. Something is new every time you go, and you learn something ancient every time you go.
Lisa: I’ve been to Israel eight times. My first was in 2014—during a war. All the tourists left. We wouldn’t leave because our kids were there. One daughter was teaching English in the partnership region, and the other daughter was staff on the Teen Mission. We were like, “We can’t flee. What’s the message we would be sending to our kids?” So, we stayed—and we went in bomb shelters literally my first night. Teen Mission ended up coming home early that year—we all flew out the same day. But we went back the following year. And we continue to go back.
Making an authentic connection to Israel
Rich: I think the only real way to understand Israel is to have relationships with real people on the ground. Having American Jews understand what the Israeli point of view is—not from the newspaper, not from CNN, and not from politics—but in reality. What’s their culture and world like?
I think if we spend time bringing light to the people-to-people aspect of it, the rest of it becomes easier. Once there’s a foundation of trust between a variety of types of American Jews and Israelis, then you can start to have conversations about the political stuff. The difficult stuff. You can’t do it the other way around.
Bringing Israel to Detroit—ShinShinim and Shlichim
Rich: The whole premise of ShinShinim (recent Israeli high school graduates who come to America for a year of service before joining the army) and Schlichim (Israeli emissaries trained by the Jewish Agency for Israel) is building a personal bridge.
When we decided to reignite the Shaliach program about five years ago, I was the chairman of [Partnership2Gether]. We wound up interviewing Nina and her family, and the Federation hired her. I felt professionally responsible for making sure they were okay. The fact that they became family was the unexpected bonus.
Lisa: We became her American parents and her kids’ grandparents. When she had her third child here, the bris was at our house. They were just here. They went to Camp Tamarack, and they stayed here before and after camp.
Learning what connects us—and appreciating our differences
Rich: We’re always shocked at how we’re very culturally different.
Lisa: I’ll give you an instance with Yiftah [Leket, the current Shaliach in Detroit]. I brought his kids Hanukkah presents. And he was so confused. In Israel, it’s not a gift-giving holiday.
And here, you have to work to be Jewish. That’s the biggest shock for the ShinShinim, these 18-year-olds that come over here. They appreciate, “Wow, these people want to be Jewish. They have to work to be Jewish and join a synagogue, and go somewhere to be Jewish.”
Don’t forget the food and wine
Lisa: I like all the food. I don’t have a favorite spot. [Rich] has a favorite spot.
Rich: Do I?
Lisa: The hummus place in Jerusalem.
Rich: Oh, I do like the hummus place—Abu Shukri in the Arab Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem. Just very authentic.
Lisa: Amongst many other programs and activities, our Partnership Region [the Central Galilee] has thirteen wineries that have joined together to try and make a little Napa—a destination.
But don’t take their word for it—see Israel for yourself
Lisa: I think it’s important for people to go there, just like this Motor City Mission [is doing]. See it. I really think people get invested once they’ve been there.
Richard: And do your own research. I think that before you listen to people preach about Israel and its relationship with the U.S. and vice versa—and its people and its human rights—do your own homework. Do your own research. One of the ways that you can do that is by going there and meeting people. Then, at least, we have a shot at an honest conversation about the place.