Brian Kutinsky and Michael Neumann

By Brian Kutinsky

When I was growing up in the 70s, spending time in Israel generally meant living on a kibbutz. As a gay kid, this didn’t particularly appeal to me, and I didn’t visit until many years later. Recently, my husband, Michael Neumann, an anesthesiologist, and I were fortunate to be part of the Detroit Federation’s Forman 3 Leadership Mission. The experience was life changing. This was certainly not the agrarian Israel of my childhood. 

The Forman III Leadership Mission participants at the Western Wall

The Forman Leadership Mission, under Federation’s Maimonides Society, was created by the late Dr. Jeffrey Forman to cultivate future leadership for the Maimonides Society and the Detroit Federation. It includes Gen X couples — where at least one member of each couple is a physician — in a yearlong leadership program that culminates with a mission to Israel through a medical lens. This year’s five-day whirlwind mission included 25 participants and was chaired by Drs. Beth and Brad Rosenberg and Michael Feld and advised by Terri Farber. 

It began with a private visit to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. Peres believed that innovation was the best road to peace. On the north side of Tel Aviv, located on a bluff directly overlooking the Mediterranean, this modern architectural masterpiece is the fruition of his vision. The Peres center does just that.  

As a gay couple, it was especially moving to us to visit the new Magen David Adom Blood Bank. The facility is not only the most secure blood bank in the world, there are numerous floors underground that protect it from earthquakes, chemical and nuclear warfare, and more.

Especially moving for us was the ability to give blood legally for the first time since the mid-80s — something that is currently not an option for us in the United States, although the FDC is now set to correct that deficiency.

A highlight of the mission was the ability to give blood legally — something that is currently not an option for Brian and his husband in the United States.

Set to open later this year is the new National Library of Israel in Jerusalem — another architectural masterpiece. Our group was fortunate to get a private tour of the building before it opens. The Library was recently listed as one of the buildings to change the world in 2023. As an architecture buff, it was amazing to watch a building of this quality being built. 

It is significant to note that the blood bank (at about $130 million) and the library (at $300 million) were funded primarily by TWO Jewish American families. Indeed, the significance of American Jewish philanthropy, particularly from Detroit, cannot be overemphasized. Our dollars have had a significant impact in Israel, and they recognize that! 

It was also meaningful to visit Detroit’s Partnership Region in the Central Galilee. Here we were able to meet with staff, lay leaders and young adults involved in that area of Israel, and we witnessed the strong relationships that exist between our two communities. We met with five shinshinim, young emissaries, who will be living and working in our community next year. This group was so impressive that a few of our group members immediately signed up to be their host families in Detroit. 

At Detroit’s Partnership Region in the Central Galilee

A very personal experience was visiting and meeting with recipients of Out for Change in Jerusalem, which Federation helps fund. The purpose is to provide safety, refuge, support and retraining for young people who wish to leave their extremely Orthodox sects. It was incredibly moving to hear from these young adults (many who are gay), and the fact that the Detroit Federation supports this is something to be proud of. 

But perhaps most moving was our visit to the Mount Herzl memorial for fallen soldiers, another great modern piece of architecture. Especially moving and personal was visiting the grave of one of our group member’s uncles, who lost his life in the Six Day War, and for whom she was named. It was a very personal reminder that the Jewish state has survived and prospered at great costs. 

We were in Israel at a tense time. It is now controlled by the most conservative coalition in history. On the day that we arrived there were protests against the proposed changes in the law permitting the legislature from overruling the Supreme Court. In the middle of our trip, Israelis raided the West Bank. On the day we left, there were shootings in Jerusalem. It is an incredible place, and is exploding (the crane is the national bird) but it really made us realize, that as innovative as this country is, the threat of violence is never ending.