Leadership2Gether Program participants from our communities in the South-East US , visit Israel

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I arrived in Tel Aviv at night. As my plane was taxying to the gate at Ben Gurion airport, I remembered a question that was asked of me weeks before I began my journey: “Emma, do you have any expectations for your first trip to Israel?” I remembered saying immediately: “I just want my plane to land on the ground.”

So within the first ten minutes of being in Israel, my one and only expectation had already been met. I made my way through passport control and baggage claim and climbed into a car and left straight away for Jerusalem. During the car ride, my driver highlighted out key points to me and, despite the dark of the night, I could see everything exactly as he was describing it to me. I knew it like an instinct, like a memory I’d cherished from childhood – I could already see the outline of the hills of Jerusalem.

Through the past five years of working at the Federation, I have been extremely lucky to work very closely with our Partnership 2Gether program. And because I have met Nitza Gerber, Tal Osher, Dana Marmari, Dorit Zini, Maya Shoham, Calanit Hedvati, Rotem Gabay, Dr. Yael Kopelman, so many wonderful teens and countless other amazing Israelis, I didn’t need daylight to be able to see what my driver was trying to show me.

I came to Israel to participate in the 2019 Leadership 2Gether program cohort, having already participated in the 2017 program cohort in Nashville, TN. I was fortunate to be with so many that I had met in Nashville, both American and Israeli, as well as meet many new faces – all of us on the same journey of discovering ways to enrich and empower our home communities and celebrate and inspire reflections of Judaism in our modern world.

The overall experience that emerged was far beyond the singular expectation I had. My plane landed on the ground – and after crossing that hurdle and remaining curious and open, I was able to truly have an experience unencumbered by assumption. I was able to be present and absorb all that was in front of me and all that I received, from the spring chill of the Mediterranean winds in Caesarea to the wonderful and warm hospitality from my host family. > 

Our group spent time in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, visiting the Old City, exploring Machne Yehuda shuk, learning about Zionism at the Herzl Center as well as visiting the offices at the Jewish Agency for Israel – all of which helped connect me to the work and the mission that I’ve been involved with through my time at the Federation.

Some of the most meaningful times for me were in our Partnership region of Hadera. To be able to be with so many friends and have the opportunity to live an everyday normal life with my host family doing laundry and cooking and running errands all to finally sit down for a relaxed Shabbat dinner – that was truly a highlight of my week.

As I look again at the pictures taken from this trip, sometime it’s hard for me to believe that I’m looking at myself. I said “yes” to a lot of exercises and encounters that I probably wouldn’t have said “yes” to here at home. And I have to realize all over again that the woman in my pictures is me being the most “me” I’ve ever been. Happy, confident, slightly sunburned and willing to take risks. > 

The more time I spent with my incredible peers, the braver I felt being a louder version of myself and asking questions of myself like: “Who am I?” and “Do I honestly believe that I can do the things that scare me?”

We ended our week more attached to each other than any other leadership cohort I’d ever taken part of. Each of us made connections beyond our wildest dreams and cheerfully traded contact information, already imagining the next time we’d see each other again. And as many of us wondered about how to bring the lessons we had learned back to our communities, I had a separate thought: “How can I bring back the ‘Emma’ I was fortunate to discover after her plane landed in Tel Aviv?”





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14 May 2019 / 9 Iyar 5779 0