20-year reunion! Lehigh Valley and Yoav partnership leaders meet in Israel

By Aaron Gorodzinsky
Director of Campaign and Security Planning

The Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley’s Partnership2Gether committee traveled to Yoav, Israel, in June for our annual meeting and to celebrate 20 years of partnership. Our trip was a great opportunity to visit some of the projects we have funded in the past and to connect with our friends.

Day 1. Witnessing creativity

Our adventure began with a visit to the Gaines Arts Center, where we were immersed in a unique exhibition hall made from recycled containers. Inside, we had the pleasure of experiencing a diverse collection of art pieces.

Next on our itinerary was a trip to the Tzafit high school music room, where talented teenagers honed their skills using professional recording equipment. This music center served as a hub for all members of Yoav, fostering a stronger sense of community by bringing together individuals from different generations to form multigenerational bands. The center was made possible in part by a P2G project grant awarded to the school. The grant aimed to encourage and nurture the students’ passion for music, providing them with opportunities to explore and express their creativity.

As the day drew to a close, we savored a traditional poike one-pot dinner while overlooking the enchanting sunset at Kfar Menachem. This delightful evening brought together the Yoav and Lehigh Valley partnership committees, allowing us to raise a toast and celebrate a week filled with success and meaningful connections.

Day 2. Under the ground and Under the Same Moon

Our second day started with a visit to the Beit Guvrin caves, a site recognized by UNESCO. We marveled at the famous bell cave and delved into the rich historical background of this extraordinary place.

Continuing our journey, we arrived at the Sdot Yoav school, where we had the pleasure of meeting children who participated in the Under the Same Moon program. This exceptional initiative serves as a pillar program within our community, fostering connections between families in the Lehigh Valley and Yoav through letter exchanges and long-lasting relationships. During our time at the school, we also had the opportunity to explore various classrooms and to visit the bird garden. Yoav schools prioritize the connection between students and nature, evident in the thoughtful design and construction of the educational facilities.

Our exploration continued at the Kibbutz Gat sustainability park, a project funded by the kibbutz and partially supported by a Partnership2Gether special grant. The park serves as a versatile venue for birthdays, weddings and other community gatherings, promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness.

To conclude the day, our dedicated committees from Yoav and Lehigh Valley held a meeting to reflect on the past year and collaborate on meaningful programming for the coming year. During our meeting we were able to plan exciting activities that will strengthen our Partnership2Gether people-to-people connections.

Day 3. Strengthening bonds and exploring Jerusalem

The third day opened with a visit to the Yoav municipality, where we had the honor of meeting the newly elected mayor, Nati Lerner. During our meeting, Mayor Nati reassured our group of the municipality’s unwavering commitment to our partnership and extended a special invitation for two committee members to meet privately in his office.

As a gesture of appreciation, PA Rep. Mike Schlossberg presented Mayor Nati with a flag that had flown at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, symbolizing the deep connection between our communities.

Following this, we embarked on a bus journey to Jerusalem to meet with representatives of the Jewish Agency for Israel. They graciously provided us with a tour of their building and shared insightful information about how our Federation dollars are used to build a better country and strengthen the bond between the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.

After the visit, we made our way to the market in Jerusalem, where we enjoyed a culinary tour of different Jewish foods from around the world. After the delectable feast, we embarked on an archaeological adventure, participating in the Temple Mount Salvage Operation atop Mount Scopus. With great excitement, we sifted through the earth and discovered fragments of pottery, glass, metal and even a shark’s tooth!

The day concluded with a delightful dinner, which further deepened the bonds between our group members. Anticipation filled the air as we eagerly looked forward to visiting the Knesset and reconnecting with Matti Sarfatti Harkavi, the former mayor of Yoav who is now a sitting member of the Knesset.

A few of us took the opportunity just before bed to visit the Kotel (the Western Wall) and say some prayers. It was a special visit at night, and we all recharged our spiritual connection to the land.

Day 4. A Journey into politics and human connection

The next day we embarked on a private tour of the Knesset with former Mayor Matti. Her political journey began with her involvement in Partnership2Gether as its chair. She later served as the mayor of Yoav for 12 years before being elected to the Knesset as a member of the Yesh Atid Party.

During our tour, we had the privilege of sitting in the plenum’s reserved seats for special guests, admiring the Marc Chagall tapestry specially designed for the Knesset and beholding a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Additionally, we had the unique opportunity to visit the room where the decision to retake Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War was made, an extraordinary room not accessible to every visitor.

Our visit concluded with a private audience with Matti, who shared how her work at Partnership2Gether and her tenure as mayor inspired her to continue making a difference by running for the Knesset.

Returning to Yoav, we visited the El-Azi Arab village, where we learned about the harmonious coexistence of the village’s residents and the rest of the municipality. Although the village has existed for a long time, it officially became part of Yoav in 2003.

Our day drew to a close at Kedma, a youth village that offers support and stability to teenagers from all across Israel. We had the privilege of meeting two remarkable individuals who shared their inspiring stories and showed us their state-of-the-art technology lab and baking station. These resilient young individuals find a second family and the motivation to succeed within the nurturing environment of Kedma.

Day 5. Celebrating our Partnership2Gether

On our last official day, our mission made its way to the Anu Museum in Tel Aviv. The museum celebrates the Jewish people’s contributions to culture, theater, music, politics, the arts and more, and was recently remodeled. It’s a must for all to see!

In the evening, we gathered together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Partnership2Gether, an occasion that undoubtedly served as a testament to the enduring connections and shared accomplishments of Yoav and the Lehigh Valley. The celebration included live performances, music, food and reunions with old friends. It was the perfect way to end a very meaningful visit.

Coming back, we look forward to a year of great partnership and people-to-people connections. Happy birthday P2G Yoav-Lehigh Valley! Let’s hope the next 20 years are even more successful.