By Aaron Gorodzinsky
Director of Campaign and Security Planning
Two years ago, before we even knew what COVID-19 was, Jeri Zimmerman, Miriam Zager, and I joined members of the Partnership2Gether committee in Yoav to start working on ideas that could help bring our communities closer together. Among the many that we envisioned during that dreaming session was the opportunity for the entire P2G committee in Yoav to join us in the Lehigh Valley for a week-long visit to commemorate Yom Hazikaron and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. This was not an easy proposition. For many members of the committee in Israel, this was the first time commemorating those important holidays outside the country. However, we decided that we would make this happen for our communities because of the opportunities that would come from having them visit our community.
After a disappointing 2021 where we had to cancel the visit because of COVID-19, a new date was selected and 13 members of the P2G committee joined us in the Lehigh Valley this past week to commemorate Yom Hazikaron and to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut the same way they would in Israel. Before their trip, they had worked with Gavriel, our Israel shaliach, to ensure that they had all the necessary tools and materials to put together a worthy visit with our community. From ordering special flags to bringing uniforms and program materials, every single detail was coordinated before they got here.
The delegation arrived in the Lehigh Valley early on Sunday morning, May 1, and went straight to work. They met with Rabbi Allen Judah and Andrea Reich from Jewish Family Services at an Allentown cemetery, where they volunteered to help clean some of the gravestones. This was a very meaningful visit for the committee, realizing that our Lehigh Valley community has deep roots and that we continue to honor those who left legacies in our communities by maintaining those cemeteries even long after relatives have passed away. Following that experience, the group met with their host families and members of the committee in the Lehigh Valley and enjoyed a meal at the home of Miriam Zager, who chairs the P2G committee in the Lehigh Valley
Monday was a day full of meetings. We started the day by meeting with the leadership of the Jewish Community Center, talking about some of the issues the JCC faced in the past year and the opportunities that we could work on to bring our communities together. Following that meeting and a tour of the building, the committee met with the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley staff for lunch and heard about the work that we do to ensure our community, our partners nationally, and our overseas partners can do the work that they do. That afternoon we held our annual P2G committee meetings, a very special opportunity since this was the first time that the Israeli side and the American side got to sit next to each other to talk about the programs that took place this year and to envision the programs for the future.
Tuesday was also a day of meetings. We started our day at Jewish Family Service, where the committee got to meet with their staff and help organize the food pantry. Then we crossed the street and made our way to the Hillel building at Muhlenberg College to learn about the work that Hillel is doing in our community and to find ways to engage the students when they are visiting Israel during their birthright trips.
It was Tuesday night when the committee finally had the opportunity to lead one of the ceremonies that they had been preparing for over two years. Israel Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron, as it is called in Hebrew, is a very important date for all Israelis because it is the day that they remember the soldiers who fell fighting for Israel and the victims who have fallen by the hands of terrorism. Every single Israeli knows a family member, a friend, or an army comrade who fell defending their country or was a victim of terrorism. At this ceremony, our friends from Israel read the names of all of the soldiers from our Partnership2Gether region who have fallen since Israel was declared independent. This was a heartfelt ceremony for them because each one of them knew the names, the stories, and in some cases the families of those soldiers, and they were able to share it with our community for the first time.
On Wednesday morning the P2G committee attended the Jewish Day School ceremony and was able to share with our kids some of the same stories they had shared with us the night before. The committee also had a tour of our school and even had lunch with the students to continue sharing their stories.
It’s a well-known fact that every Israeli knows that after a day of mourning, it is time to begin the celebrations. So, on Wednesday night following a day of mourning, the P2G committee hosted an event at Knesset Israel to kick off the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in our community by hosting a hummus-making party! We had the opportunity to learn how to make the best homemade hummus and pita. Trust me, it was incredible hummus. After our stomachs were full and our spirits were renewed, the partnership committee led the group in some Israeli dancing, showing us how resilient they are and how Israeli culture can move so quickly from grief to celebration.
On Thursday the big celebration took place at the JCC. Each member of the committee prepared one activity that represented that person’s kibbutz or moshav. Participants received a “passport” at the start of the event and were taken on a tour of our partnership! Each family had the opportunity to have a conversation, get to know and see what each area of our partnership looks like, and take home some fun presents. This was one of the best Yom Ha’aztmaut celebrations we’ve had, because of all the work and dedication of our committee in Yoav.
Looking back at the visit, the best part about having the entire Yoav committee in the Lehigh Valley was seeing them speaking to members of our community who up to this point had heard very little about the work that we do in our partnership and building those relationships. The only way to continue expanding the work that we do in our partnership is to build stronger ties between our two communities. Each time a member had a conversation with someone new, a process was started. We know that most of those ties will be strengthened as we do more and more partnership work.
As we start preparing to celebrate the 75th birthday of Israel and to make multiple upcoming trips from our community, I encourage each one of you to be engaged in our partnership. If you would like to learn more about the partnership and the work we do, don't hesitate to reach out to me. It is one of the most rewarding opportunities to engage in meaningful work.
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