Florida Federations strengthen ties with legislators on Israel Mission

South Florida Legislators Mission to Israel at Knesset

This past June, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of Broward County, and Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County participated in the first-ever South Florida Legislators Mission to Israel, bringing ten state senators and representatives from Florida to the Jewish State to learn about its religious and cultural diversity, witness first-hand the security threats the country faces, experience the strength and vibrancy of Israeli democracy, and explore opportunities for collaboration between their home communities and Israel.  

The ten participants, most of whom visited Israel for the first time, represent districts throughout Florida. They are Rep. Robbie Brackett, Sen. Jennifer Bradley, Sen. Jason Brodeur, Sen. Alexis Calatayud, Rep. Jennifer Canady, Rep. Hillary Cassel, Rep. Tiffany Esposito, Rep. Mike Gottlieb, Rep. Vicki Lopez, and Sen. Rosalind Osgood. 
The seeds for this trip were planted in March when Sen. Alexis Calatayud reached out to the Miami Federation with the idea of organizing a trip to Israel with a group of state senators. Director of Jewish Community Relations and Government Affairs at the Federation Josh Sayles, who had the relationship with the state senator, reached out to the leadership of the other Federations in South Florida to make this initiative a wider effort and collaborate with the neighboring communities.  


The week-long trip was packed with high-level briefings, VIP tours, meetings with a diverse representation of Israelis, and visits to religious and historic sites. They met with MK Speaker Amir Ohana of Likud, MK Michael Biton of National Unity, MK Merav Cohen of Yesh Atid,  US Deputy Chief of Mission Stephanie Hallett, Legal Advisor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who defended Israel at the Hague Dr. Tal Becker, CEO of Share Zedek Medical Center Prof. Ofer Merin and family members of hostages and former hostages. 

While the sites and meetings in the formal program were tremendously impactful, the impromptu interactions with Israelis were just as important.  The conversations the legislators had with waiters, taxi drivers and soldiers added depth and breadth to their understanding of Israel and its society. 


State Representative Vicki Lopez (R) called the trip “eye opening and life altering on so many levels.”  

Lopez said, “I was struck with the level of maturity of the young adults; all of whom had a clear and deep understanding of their government and the important issues facing Israel. The resilience of the Israeli people is not lost on anyone that spends a few days in the country. They are determined to defend and protect their state, people and property.” She added, “I return home more committed than ever to supporting Israel, her people, and the Jewish community in Florida and, in particular, those who live in House District 113.” 

One of the members of the delegation, who is a Black pastor, shared with Sayles that before the trip she knew there was a lot of pain in the Jewish community, but only now was she able to understand why there cannot be an unconditional ceasefire that would allow Hamas to remain in power. She pledged to communicate what she learned with her colleagues in the Florida Black Caucus and in her church so that they too can hear this perspective. 

Sayles explained what his overarching goals were that they left the legislators with on the last day of the trip.  The first was for them to understand the impact that Israel - and whatever happens there - has on the local community in Florida, and particularly on the Jewish community. The second was for them to understand that Israel is surrounded by terrorist groups that are a threat not just to Israel, but a boon to anti-democracy movements around the globe, and that many of the pro-Palestinian protestors back in Florida are testing the limits of their First Amendment rights in an effort to spread anti-democratic and anti-western values. 

He elaborated, “They need to understand that everything that happens in Israel – good and bad – affects our lives, affects their Jewish constituents locally. The 1,100% rise in antisemitism since October 7 is directly correlated to the war in Gaza.” He also implored them to use their voice and power to deal with the anti-Israel currents, which are also anti-democratic and anti-western.   “They need to understand that Jews historically only thrive in liberal democracies, and when they see these numbers of antisemitism rising, there is a threat to western democracy.”  These are the two points he left them with and encouraged them to think deeply about when they return home. 

This trip would not have been possible if the groundwork was not laid out well in advance and if the relationships did not exist, from local government up to the state legislators.  Sayles explained that Sen. Alexis Calatayud turned to the Miami Federation because of the close relationship that was already in place.   

Building on the success of this mission and the relationships that were fostered during this trip, the Federation is aiming to pilot its first statewide Jewish community advocacy day in Tallahassee next year.  Sayles also hopes to leverage the relationships from this mission to recruit members for another mission next year. 

Like Miami, dozens of other Federations across the United States and Canada have led civic trips to Israel as a meaningful tool to strengthen strategic relationships and offer on-the-ground education to influential decision-makers.