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Community Spotlight On Government Affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia
By Robin Schatz, Director of Government Affairs

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is a large community covering five counties with approximately 225,000 Jewish households. This region was designated one of the 18 at-risk urban communities by the Department of Homeland Security. In the spring of 2005, I read an article in The Washington Post about the local police meeting with their Israeli counterparts to learn about counter-terrorism techniques. Because of our security concerns in Philadelphia, I thought a mission to Israel might be beneficial. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is fortunate to have a donor who owns a large security firm, and he was willing to underwrite the lion’s share of the trip.
 
Once I received the go-ahead, I began to recruit participants. It was clear the mission’s success depended on the participants. I wanted people who had operational expertise and who would be able to utilize the information to benefit the City and Commonwealth. The participants included: three members of the Pennsylvania State Police who represented the areas of Intelligence, Bomb Disposal, and Homeland Security; the executive director of PEMA (Pennsylvania  Emergency Management Agency); two members of the Philadelphia Police Department (the Captain of the Counter-terrorism Unit who also sits on the Counter-Terrorism Regional Task Force, and a bomb technician who sits on several national counter-terrorism organizations); the head of Emergency Preparedness for a local hospital (who organizes regional response drills); and a representative of the funder.  Our tour guide was a commander in the Israeli National Police who was able to relate to the participants as their colleague, and was able to gain access to resources that would otherwise have been unavailable.

The Mission took place in February 2006. Highlights of the Mission include: a response demonstration project at Shiba Hospital in Tel Aviv; meeting with a tank command on the Golan Heights; a trip to the Karni Crossing a few hours after it had been shelled by Hamas; demonstration of emergency response and a chilling recreation of a hostage situation at our partnership community, Netivot; and an extensive meeting with the Jerusalem Bomb Squad.  Each participant took away something different from the Mission; they all said it was the experience of a lifetime and, without exception, would like to return.
 
The benefits of this program have been tremendous.  It has increased awareness of the difficulties Israel faces on a daily basis and made each participant an advocate. Additionally, as a federation and a community, we have strengthened our ties with local and state law enforcement. Mission participants are more sensitive to the concerns of our community and are eager to support us in any way. As an extra benefit, we also garnered good publicity from our local media. The program was so successful our donor is willing to fund a second Mission. I am now preparing to take a second group to Israel, tweaking the mission to suit the needs of the participants.

If anyone is interested in learning more about this program, or taking a look at the February 2006 itinerary, please contact Robin Schatz, Director of Government Affairs, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia at 215-832-0654 or rschatz@philafederation.org.