This blog posting was contributed by Jim Lodge, UJC VP for Israel/Overseas.
The Negev Conference just ended – but true to form, the participants are still lingering. I just saw the MetroWest group (Lisa Lisser, Max Kleinman, and Amir Shacham) shmoozing with Zvika Greengold (mayor of Ofakim) and Danny Pins (director, Division for Immigrant Integration, JDC-Israel). In the next room, Lee Perlman (director, Programs and Planning, UJC Israel) is huddling with Steve Shapiro (chair, Task Force on Arab Citizens of Israel, UJA-Federation of New York).
So it should come as no surprise that the federations here want to keep the conversation going, and to learn from each other – to share experiences, go on missions to each others’ regions, and to gather again (in fact, to meet in just six months).
Undergirding this spirit is a renewed commitment to Zionist ideals that sing not just for the kibbutzniks of the Second Aliyah or the fighters of the Six-Day War – but for a new generation that (in the words of Myriam Lasry of Ayalim) is searching for its own role in building our country and land. As Naomi Efrat (Shahaf Center for Community Development and member of Kama Urban Community in Beersheva) emphasized, this is not a matter of giving, but of receiving, and its mood is not pity but pride. For we – North Americans and Israelis alike – have the opportunity to act on a vision of Zionism that leads from the sophisticated center to the under populated periphery.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Kher Albaz, director of Social Services for Segev Shalom and a leader of the Negev’s Bedouin community, reinforced that vision. The Bedouin are part of the Negev and its people. They too must be brought into a shared vision for Israel.
Of course, commitment without action is vacuous. The Negev Work Group has already committed itself to a program now taking shape under the banner of the Israel Teacher Corps. We are also learned of an exciting venture presented at the Conference by Ofir Fisher (COO, OR Movement) and Leah Golan (Director General, Israel Department, JAFI) to attract and support newcomers to the Negev.
New ideas are plentiful: hasbara on the region’s behalf in Israel, discussions with the Government of Israel, the development of investment vehicles, promotion of gap-year opportunities for Israelis, regional vocational training and placement programs.
What will we decide on? Well, we don’t know yet. We need to keep talking, keep meeting, keep connecting – to do what our system has always done: Create a shared commitment across this system of federations.