I have just returned from our Solomon Society Israel@75 – Dubai Mission, for many of us our first return to Israel since the pandemic; for a few it was their very first trip to Israel.
Traveling with a diverse group of 24 guys provides an opportunity to experience the journey through someone else’s perspective. For me, these 24 perspectives, like facets in a diamond that catch the light differently, amplified an already meaningful experience. It was a wonderful trip. The insights and wisdom of my fellow travelers have already begun to have influence in shaping my life.
Integral to our trip was visiting our partnership city, Kiryat Malachi (City of Angels), which is about 20 miles from the border with Gaza. Historically, Kiryat Malachi was the welcoming city for many Jewish immigrants who arrived after leaving Arab and Muslim countries during the founding years of Israel. It remains a city of immigrants to this day, though the more recent immigrants are largely from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Kiryat Malachi has been the beneficiary of our overseas giving.
Our community’s investment in Kiryat Malachi/Ashkelon Coastal region over the last 18 years has provided over $375,000 of funding for scholarships for youth sports, a music center for teens, helped update a senior center, provided computer skills training for at-risk youth, and renovated bomb shelters. The William & Keiko Witte Youth Center, which was funded by Jewish Federation of Orange County thanks to the naming donors, is a gathering place for youth at the regional community center.
Our support of projects in Israel is made possible through grants made to our partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). This past year we provided grants of $50,000 to JAFI and $50,000 to JDC to partner on delivering projects. Federation would like to see our commitment to the region and to the populations it represents grow in the coming years. If you have an interest in helping support this work, or questions about what we could be doing for immigrant populations, please email me.
One of the unique aspects of our Israel@75 – Dubai Mission was meeting with diplomats.
Our meetings with Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, United States Ambassador to Israel 2011-17, and Ambassador Amir Hayek, Israeli Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, were fascinating. The ambassadors articulated the way in which the world’s understanding of Israel has changed as a result of the Abraham Accords, each sharing an optimistic view that through normalization of diplomacy and trade with Israel, people to people relationships are being formed which potentially can advance Israel’s peace agenda. The discussions emphasized how business cooperation can support a shared future vision of the Middle East. We visited the Abrahamic Family House, whose mission is to “bridge our common humanity through the exchange of knowledge, dialogue, and the practice of faith,” and can be seen as the symbolic cultural embodiment of this optimistic shared future.
The Israel@75 – Dubai Mission was important in celebrating Israel’s milestone 75th year of independence and, in so doing, supporting Israel so that it may serve as a light for all nations. I head back to Israel next week for the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, one of the largest gatherings of Jewish Federation professional and lay leadership. I am overjoyed to represent our community at the GA and to engage in conversations about the Jewish future with colleagues and leadership in Israel over the next few days.
Erik Ludwig, PhD
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Orange County