Shalom Austin Building a Bridge with Israel
By Wendy Goodman
There are many reasons to visit Israel— vacation, a religious tour, Birthright or seeing family and friends. Recently, I traveled to Israel to tour the Western Galilee and learn about Partnership2gether, a partnership between The Jewish Agency for Israel and Shalom Austin. The partnership is focused on building networks, exchanging ideas, engaging in collaborative projects and developing new relationships to strengthen global Jewish identity and make life-changing impact for Jews in Israel, the U.S., Budapest and Hungary. Through contributions to the Annual Campaign, Shalom Austin provides support for P2G’s programs, which provide medical care, educate future leaders, assist people in need and foster cultural, social and economic initiatives.
Shop for Meaning
Among the programs supported by the partnership is Shop for Meaning, a unique vocational training center for young adults with disabilities. Located in Akko, the facility was created by charitable organization Kivunim and the Institute for National Insurance of Israel. The goal of the shop is to provide young people with disabilities the necessary tools, training and support they need for successful employment and independence.
During my visit, I had the privilege of meeting some of the participants and shop employees.
Tommy, a spirited, kindhearted and talented 21-year old with brain paralysis who works at Shop for Meaning spoke enthusiastically about the program through a speech synthesizer. “I’m active socially in the field of people with disabilities. I like this program very much because it is not a treatment, but a way to live an active life. I work as the newspaper editor for the shop, do promotions and marketing as well as responsible for hosting visiting groups,” Tommy said.
Visiting the shop, meeting the dedicated staff and hearing their moving personal stories demonstrated the true impact and breadth of the program, and the opportunities it provides.
Upon leaving, the shop staff graciously thanked me for the generous support on behalf of Shalom Austin, to which I felt compelled to respond, “you are the ones we truly thank!”
Galilee Medical Center
The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya is another major P2G partner, which serves some 600,000 residents in and around the Western Galilee. Through the partnership, the hospital hosts community delegations, American medical students, and runs the Emergency Response Group, a professional training program for doctors, administrators and medical personnel.
I toured the hospital’s 450-bed underground facility, the only facility of its kind in Israel, which became the front-line emergency room for Israeli soldiers and civilians during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
In 2015, the Galilee Medical Center further revolutionized healthcare for the people of the region by opening a new Women’s Health Wing to provide multidisciplinary medical care for women.
Ghetto Fighters’ Museum
Founded by Holocaust survivors in 1949 and located within the Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz, The Ghetto Fighters’ House is the first Holocaust memorial museum in the world and one of the largest. Through dynamic digital installations, audio visual displays and experiential exhibits, the recently renovated museum provides an educational and interactive experience for adults and children.
Focused on retelling the societal and personal stories of the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance, each room of the museum offers a new hi-tech experience to engage active learning and provide opportunities for private reflection.
Upon entering the exhibit, screens as high as the ceiling and as wide as a city street surrounded me with moving images telling visual stories of the ghettos across Eastern Europe. I felt a deep emotional connection to the people in these larger-than-life screens—an experience I will never soon forget.
“We need to realize, even in Israel, that we know that we have to tell the story in a different way. Because for all generations after the event, it somehow is far, far away, it’s only in films and we need to do something about it,” said Tania Ronen, educational historian of the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum.
Education Task Force
Both virtually and in-person, P2G fosters enriching educational opportunities with educators and students from preschool to high school. During my visit, I met with the passionate and dedicated educators of the Education Task Force eager to share ideas, discuss collaborative projects and learn more about Jewish education in the U.S.
Incoming chair of P2G Efrat Srebro described the importance of the partnership with the Shalom Austin Early Childhood Program, “Our main goal is to connect people-to-people. We believe that’s the mission of our generation... I’m in touch with the Shalom Austin Early Childhood Program to share holidays, share cards, and share special projects. We are an information center for the teachers in Austin. We help and support each other, like one big community. I believe if we start our partnership from early childhood, then we connect those kids for the rest of their life, that’s why it’s so important—for us and for you.”
Members of the P2G Education Task Force in Israel recently visited the Shalom Austin Early Childhood Program to host collaborative activities with students. See page 8 for the full story.
Visiting Israel on this partnership mission allowed me to experience first-hand the value of sustaining a strong connection to Israel and overseas. I feel the Israeli hospitality, I see the realities, I experience the programs. Austin can be a leading community in the partnership; it’s up to us. ■