First person: Beginning at the first border

by | Aug 13, 2018 | Uncategorized

Earlier this summer, a group of 37 local community members traveled to Israel together on the Federation’s Journey Home Mission to Israel. The week-long, interactive mission was designed to enable participants to follow their campaign dollars to the sites and programs funded by the UJFT’s Annual Campaign. It was also an opportunity for Federation young leaders to closely interact and share experiences with more seasoned leaders, with each group inspiring the other. Woven throughout the mission were an emphasis on leadership (individual, collective, and even global) and making a difference. To those ends, the mission included visits at leadership development organizations, IDF experiences, some of Israel’s leading high-tech programs, and even cutting-edge programs in social entrepreneurship. The country itself can be described as “Leading the way” for so many high-tech advances in medicine, security, and social programs. Many of the programs the group experienced were delivered by UJFT’s overseas partners—the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ( JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel ( JAFI), and ORT. It was gratifying to see how this Federation’s campaign dollars were hard at work—making a difference in the lives of one, and also in the lives of many.

Upcoming issues of Jewish News will highlight some mission experiences. The first article follows.

Among other things, this mission was characterized by visits to three of Israel’s borders—Egypt (Gaza), Syria, and Lebanon.

The desert sun beat down on us as we stood on a hill, gazing out at what was forbidden for us to enter—the Gaza Strip. On approach to this overlook from the north, we drove past dozens of patches of scorched earth, remnants of fires from recent Palestinian terrorist attacks. Gazan terrorists utilized the winds and dry conditions to their advantage by sending flaming kites and balloons to Israel, which destroyed painstakingly cultivated crops and forests.

As we looked toward Gaza, Nimrod Palmach, a combat-injured, former IDF special-forces officer, spoke about the stress from persistent danger that Israelis endure living on the Gaza border. Since it is critical for thriving Israeli communities to remain on the borders to stake Israel’s claim to the land, Palmach has used innovative ideas over the last four years to support them.

Palmach was asked by members of Kibbutz Nahal Oz (which is less than a kilometer from the Gaza border) to help revitalize their community. Following a terror attack in which a child was killed, many families left. To demonstrate his commitment, Palmach and his wife moved to that community and started a gap year program for high school graduates. This pre-army program called mechina, engages teens from across Israel in a meaningful process of growth and identity to help shape their future. At the same time, the program contributes to the wellbeing of this struggling border community.

Palmach led our group on a visit to his current residence, Kibbutz Sufa. Palmach is the CEO of Ein Prat, the second mechina in a border community he helped to open. Young adult alumni from this competitive program spoke to us about the physical, mental, and spiritual growth and deep love for giving back to Israel that they gained from the program. To see Zionism being re-interpreted for 2018, and to witness a new generation enthusiastic to live up to high expectations of social action and collective responsibility was inspiring. Palmach said that the mechina pours extensive time and resources into these young adults, then tells the graduates: “We have invested in you—now it is your turn to invest in Israel.”

Tidewater Mission participants with Mechina alumni.

Nimrod Palmach’s expressions of leadership stayed with me throughout our trip. It gave me a new prism through which to see our community’s young leadership program, and it reminded me of how much I personally have benefited from the generosity of our Tidewater Jewish community—Tidewater Couple’s Project, Hineni, Hebrew Academy, etc. I’m excited to use all I gained intellectually and spiritually from this trip to reinvest into our Jewish community and pay forward this incredible experience.

–Alyssa Muhlendorf