Israelis, Austinites Form Community Connection Through Partnership2gether Visit
By Kathy Davis
When we think of Hillel’s wise words, “Do not separate yourself from the community,” we often think of one or two close groups or circles of friends. Between March 19 and 22, the community widened once again for Shalom Austin, as seven Israeli educators joined the community to share customs and traditions in song, dance, conversation and a multitude of activities.
The group, led by Gil Klempert from the education branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2gether program, consisted of a kindergarten educator and coordinator, Meital Booganim from Kibbutz Matzuba, the principal of an Akko elementary school, Yael Arish, an elementary English educator, Zehavit Shor, a middle school computer and music educator, Aliza Alony, a fifth grade educator, Miriam Harosh, and an elementary English and computer educator, Ariella Apt.
All the visitors were from the Western Galilee region in Israel, several on their first trip to the United States. Having arrived to a snowstorm in New York City, the guests, although enamored with the shopping and sites from the East Coast, were relieved to arrive to both the warm Texas hospitality of Shalom Austin staff as well as the beautiful spring weather.
After a luncheon meeting with Shalom Austin’s entire programming staff including Shelly Prant, Shalom Austin’s chief programming officer and coordinator of the visit, and David Hazzan from Austin Jewish Academy, the Israeli consortium toured the entire campus and met more staff before an H-E-B kosher store meal in the community hall. They were next whisked off in pairs to rest and meet their Austin-Israeli host families.
The group spent an entire day with the Austin Jewish Academy, taking part in a chocolate seder, learning Israeli dances, singing and sharing music, and creating a connection as the Israeli educators’ classes Skyped with the AJA students. They additionally played an elaborate game of Escape Pharoah with AJA students that included locked boxes and mysteries similar to those found in an Escape Room.
Later, the group participated in some Shalom Austin adult programming. Three of the educators spent half of a day with the children, educators and administrators from the JCC’s Early Childhood Program. They shared stories about their homes, learned Hebrew words, an Israeli dance, and three songs with hand movements, as well as enjoyed a surprise performance by the Tiger class – several songs with body movement sung by the children in Hebrew.
In addition, students from Kids Connection in the Youth and Teen program learned Israeli dancing and enjoyed practicing with the visiting educators.
Klempert and the members of the consortium also scheduled time to meet with several community congregations. They joined Congregation Agudas Achim Religious School leaders and students for a discussion of the significance of many of Israel’s regions and constructed a beautiful artistic representation of the country. They also met with students and leaders from Congregation Beth Israel, using a silk flag of Israel as the inspiration for discussions about the significance of the blue and white colors.
In between the jam-packed days, the group managed to also fit in some sightseeing around our beautiful capital city, complete with the newly bloomed Texas bluebonnets!
The group forged a host of friendships and left wishing for more time with Shalom Austin community members. The educators made an impact, extended more hands in the friendship chain that expands across the globe, invited staff to visit them in Israel, and put real faces to the members of the Partnership2gether program.
Partnership2gether is a 20-year-old program, sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federation of North America. It directly connects more than 450 Jewish and Israeli communities promoting meaningful city-to-city and region-to-region relationships.
Shalom Austin, particularly the ECP, has a long-standing relationship with the city of Akko and the Western Galilee region. In the past eight years, several kindergarten educators came to the ECP during Hanukkah for a cultural exchange, a representative from the ECP went to several schools in Akko for 10 days, and the school has participated in a number of email and project-based exchanges, including a current dance and music exchange and coordination of Shalom Austin’s participation in the Hungarian established Torch Project “Or M’dor Lor – Light from Generation to Generation.” That large-scale project was made up of torches from nine Austin Jewish communities – including the ECP, AJA, CAA and CBI who were all part of this visit – and one from Omaha, a United States partner city, symbolizing gifts received from previous generations and those passed on to future generations.
Shalom Austin community members visited during March are already involved in continued collaborative efforts with the Partnership2gether program. ■