The Tie That Binds


The concept of klal Yisrael (that all Jews are one) will begin to come alive under a proposal now being developed to bring together young people from Jewish community centers in Buenos Aires and Jerusalem with those in Commack and Cedarhurst.

"Klal Yisrael is a concept that is written in our prayers but is not one that people can feel," said Smadar Bar-Adiva, executive director of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers.

To help resolve that problem, Bar-Adiva said her group is proposing to link four JCCs in Israel, Argentina and the U.S. as an initial step in connecting all of the organization’s 1,100 branches worldwide. Speaking by phone from Jerusalem, she said that a major goal of the project is to "strengthen identity and Jewish education." Bar-Adiva noted that the JCCs already hold the Maccabi Games "as a way to cement future generations."

Joel Block, executive director of the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack, one of the JCCs participating in the partnership, said the proposal calls for selecting "10 dynamic youth leaders from each of the three countries," ages 15 to 17, to participate. Then, starting in May 2007, the teens and youth directors from each of the four JCCs would begin working on projects for 12 to 15 months. Block said the project would involve the teens flying to each otherís countries to learn about each other and their Jewish communities. He said they would also be expected to develop projects they could present to younger children and their peers to raise awareness of the global Jewish community. In between meetings, the participants would be encouraged to keep in touch with each other.

The program would end with all of the participants and their families gathering in Israel to celebrate their accomplishments and recommend ways to develop stronger, ongoing ties among Jews worldwide.

To help cover travel costs, parents of participants would be asked to pay at least $1,500 and to cover the cost of one parent’s trip to Israel. Israeli parents would be asked to provide home hospitality for the Israel trip. Another $65,000 a year over three years is being sought from philanthropic sources.

David Mallach, managing director of UJA-Federation of New York’s Commission on the Jewish People, said he found the proposal "very intriguing" and noted that his group has been looking for a pilot project to fund that would "develop a sense of connection to global Jewish people hood."

He said the participating JCCs submitted a grant request to his commission in late April and that the commission will consider it, along with other proposals, as it prepares to award more grants during the next two months. He said the commission had a grant budget of $10.25 million this year and that all but about 15 percent has already been awarded.

"We find their idea very attractive," Mallach said. "The whole issue of how we connect young Jews in this modern world is something we’re trying to figure out. It is obviously very important for UJA-Federation and this is a creative, new approach. … The level of Jewish connectedness among young Jews is not overwhelming and so developing creative new ways to try to overcome that" is of interest.

Block noted that the directors of the four JCCs met in Buenos Aires recently under the auspices of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers to get to know each other and draft the grant proposal. He said the JCC in Buenos Aires was chosen for the project in part because Jews there speak English.

"When you are doing a pilot project, you want as many favorable elements as possible," he said. "So when we are in the learning phase of it, language problems are one less thing to deal with."

Marcelo Taussik, president of the Lamroth Hakol, a JCC and synagogue in Buenos Aires, said her board is excited about this project because "we think [Jewish] continuity can be achieved if we unite as a world group of people and not live isolated and alone. … Our biggest enemy is assimilation."

"Each of us can teach and learn from the others," she added. "The motivation of our board is very high. I think this will work."

Rina Shkolnik, executive director of the JCC of the Greater Five Towns in Cedarhurst, which encompasses southwestern Nassau County, said the recent trip she made to Argentina was memorable.

"The love they have for each other and Judaism got to my heart," she said. "It is really an amazing community. To see these people and their level of caring is unbelievable. They were able to overcome the economic [crisis] at the end of 2001 and 2002 only because they are such a loving, caring community."

Taussik pointed out that even today her JCC/synagogue "feeds 700 to 800 people" who are still struggling to get back on their feet.

Block pointed out that by getting to know the Jews of Argentina, Jews elsewhere would have a better understanding of the difficulties they faced in the economic crisis.

"It’s hard to get someone moved by that …[unless] they have a friend in Argentina who is coping with the situation," he said.

Yochanan Bechler, executive director of the JCC of French Hill in Jerusalem, said he believed that communication among the participants would not be facilitated by e-mail, a Web site they could establish and their trips to each other’s countries.

"When the program finishes, they will know each other well and there will be a sense of commitment to continue the relationship for a long time," he said. Bechler added that this project has an increased chance of success because it is "happening from the ground up" and is not "predicated upon a crisis."