Nine members of the staff of the Siegel JCC traveled to Israel for a seminar for JCC professionals from October 27th - November 9th. The trip included staff members from six medium-size JCCs from across the country. The focus of the trip was to experience the beauty of Israel, understand Jewish collective memory, strengthen community, and bring it back to the J.
Our trip itinerary was jam-packed, but we knew we couldn’t miss an opportunity to visit our sister city of Arad—a relationship developed through Jewish Federation of Delaware, the Jewish Agency for Israel and its Partnership2Gether (P2G) program. The primary goal of P2G is to develop programs that will build bridges in the area of education, tourism, economic development, and volunteerism. P2G connects Jewish and Israeli communities in 46 city-to-city and region-to-region Partnerships, engaging participants in meaningful ongoing connections between Israelis and Jews around the world.
How lucky for us that we were scheduled to break off from the full traveling group for 16 hours in Arad and experience this unique connection.
At our first group dinner in Israel, our icebreaker included revealing what we saw in our minds when thinking about Israel. Common themes included Jerusalem (the Western Wall and the golden Dome of the Rock) and Tel Aviv (the Miami or New York City of Israel). After this trip, and to my surprise, my new vision of Israel, however, would be of the beautiful city of Arad.
My top 5 favorite things about Arad:
The Landscape: Arad is an incredible example of the majesty and the tranquility of the desert. Being outside in Arad felt like being in a theater without a bad seat in the house. From the lookout point where the strangely beautiful Mitzpor monument stands, you can see the Judean desert, the Dead Sea, and the Moab Mountains. I could have stood there for the entire 16 hours and not seen enough.
The Culture: The city of Arad is exploding with culture: music, dance, and art. The art gallery had a really cool exhibit showing artists’ interpretation of Arad. But what I really felt inspired by was the street art in the artists’ quarters, done by a group of artists from Hawaii, Tel Aviv, and Los Angeles. Not only did the art bring renewed life to the neighborhood, but it inspired young locals to create in the area in response.
The Community: The city seems like the kind of place where all of a person’s needs can be met. People in Arad can work, learn, shop, and enjoy life all within the city. I was told that every part of the city is no more than a 3-minute drive away. The community center produces events and opportunities for people to come together to learn, share, and celebrate. Their “Free School” day of learning program provides a forum for people to share their knowledge on a particular topic with anyone interested.
The People: I can’t imagine more gracious hosts. Community members welcomed us into their homes and invited us to dinner with their families. We were thrown a party that can only be described as epic. And, we were paired with professional counterparts to learn about their community-building efforts, all of whom were so incredibly passionate about their work. It was so easy to find common ground with each person I encountered, and the connections we made were instantaneous and strong.
The Connection: Meeting likeminded individuals wanting to connect and bring our communities together was so rewarding. The community center in Arad has so many similarities to our own JCC in Delaware, we couldn’t help but start trying to come up with ways to continue the partnership: bringing art from Arad to our ArtSpace, setting up a basketball gaming connection for high schoolers, and celebrating Chanukah together by lighting candles via Skype call.
16 hours in Arad was not enough, but it certainly sparked a flame inside all of us. I can’t wait to continue what we started. I can’t wait to go back. I can’t wait to keep talking.