Twins that are one of a kind

By Chandrea Serebro

If you think of Am Yisrael as a nation of people living around the world, then it wouldn’t surprise you to know that we have a twin in Israel. And while we look nothing like her, we are busy reconnecting with her. This twin is Beit Shemesh and the surrounding area Mateh Yehuda, a rural oasis between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that we are privileged to call our family thanks to the Israel Centre’s P2G programme – Partnership 2Gether.

The programme connects Israelis in Beit Shemesh and the Mateh Yehuda region with Jews in South Africa to develop and strengthen both communities by creating engagements based on joint programmes and shared Jewish identity through direct “people to people” connections. Because that is what it’s all about, “It is about ‘Peoplehood’” – explains Anthony Rosmarin, P2G lay leader in Johannesburg.

And the beauty of this sense of connection is that it transcends traditional perceptions and promotes the reality of a mutual interest between Israel and the diaspora community. Connections formed through face-to-face meetings and exchanges, in which both parties share their stories, their successes and challenges in building community, and offer a micro-view of what goes on in daily life in both places. And through this, give a true insight into each community’s unique sense of identity, and demonstrate how events in Israel affect Jews overseas and vice versa. In some ways, we as Jews are similar, but in most other ways we are poles apart and getting to know each other helps develop an appreciation for diversity, and the chance to explore ways of helping each other out.

“We are all one nation that cares about each other,” says Anthony, and P2G creates programmes through which we can build on this shared identity at the same time as catering to the two communities’ diverse needs.

Aviva Halabi, a P2G lay leader in Israel, who forms part of the P2G steering committee that recently met in Johannesburg and Cape Town to strategise for the year ahead and touch base with the SA contingency, is proud of the many diverse projects that are ongoing and that are seeing success both in Israel and at home. The Global School Twinning Network, winner of the Jerusalem Unity Prize, is the leading example of the way P2G is taking the idea of Israel fostered by many as an “abstract concept” and changing it into a dynamic, exciting, living place that is real and meaningful, explains Howie Gordon, Field Chairman.

Although the rough elements of school twinning has been going on for 20 years, the Twinning Network was officially established in 2011 and has since evolved to become the flagship project of P2G. This is because of its success built on the way it engages the school community as a whole (students, educators, and parents) on different issues around Jewish identity, the roles and responsibilities of both Israeli and Diaspora Jews as members of the global Jewish community, and social involvement and connectedness.

Last year, teachers from Israel came to South Africa and spent time in the classroom (from nursery school to high school), not only to find out if elephants roamed our streets, but also to shed some light on our schools and our scholars on real life in Israel and the way of learning. This year, a group of South African teachers will go to Israel to witness Israeli schools – and Hebrew teaching and learning at its best – in the flesh. “Both in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, the School Twinning programme changes the way teachers and students perceive the way they see themselves and their Jewish identity in relation to others and, of course, to Israel,” says Howie. “It creates a living bridge,” he says. They learn from each other professionally, swapping ideas, sharing resources, and seeing how it’s done elsewhere. And the programme has grown exponentially, with six continents participating, making up 600 schools from all streams of Judaism. This translates to 11 000 students around the world being inspired to engage with their global Jewish family and their heritage. They start the tender roots of what will hopefully be future ties to Israel and her people that are strong, clear, and meaningful.

From there, P2G offers further opportunities to be involved further down the line. For the past eight years, P2G has sent Israeli Grade 11 boys to join the Cycalive cycling road trip from Johannesburg to Durban, established by Rabbi Hazdan over 18 years ago. They join local Torah Academy boys and boys from Soweto, students of different cultural and religious backgrounds, for a life-changing, learning trip. Another one of these projects was a youth seminar piloted by Anthony last year, where the youth spending their gap year in Israel on the programmes offered by the diverse youth movements. “The future leaders” got together for a day-and-a-half with their Israeli counterparts “to get to know each other”. The seminar was an opportunity for the 100-strong group to engage on issues around Judaism and Zionism, as well as to discover their commonalities and their differences; and also how they can work together and learn from each other, irrespective of what their youth movement orientated, political, or religious beliefs might be. “Connecting with Israeli youth movements creates a tolerance and respect for others, and promotes the concept of one Jewish nation,” says Anthony – a fundamental goal of P2G.

Back home, The Diller Fellowship Programme, an international leadership development programme for selected Grade 11 students, instills the concepts of peoplehood and leadership in the youth so that when they go on to take the reigns they are equipped with the natural connection to Israel and her people that they will need to drive future projects and generations, in effect grooming them to become the future leaders that they will be.

You would need to look far and wide for another example of how a country and a nation develop programmes spanning the world to connect its people, and that’s just another way the Jewish people and our beautiful homeland are unique. Because, above all else, Partnership2Gether connects some 550 Jewish communities in the Diaspora with 45 Israel Partnership areas, dedicated to establishing bridges of understanding between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry. And everyone benefits. It gives Jews outside of Israel the chance to become personally involved in developing Israel’s national priority areas, in a real way. The Jews of Israel and the Jews of the partner communities become one family, living in different places. Our twin living in Israel connects us to our homeland, at the same time as actually helping the region through this connection. The partnership helps Israel deal with its changing education and welfare needs, supports economic development, and facilitates a wide range of relationship-building activities.

Just as we are unique as a nation, the South African partnership itself is unique in many ways. For starters, it is the only P2G partnership that has access to the Aliyah agency, Telfed, explains Doron Kline, CEO of Telfed, who also forms part of the P2G Steering Committee. “This co-operation means that all the ex-South African Jews who live in the partnership area can get on board, hosting the South Africans that come for the different projects for meals and Jewish holidays, and becoming a form of support to them when they are here.”

It’s about making friends across continents because, at the end of the day, we are more similar to each other than anyone else in the world, and Israel and our Jewish identity is what ties us together, and P2G helps us to explore it in unique and exciting ways.

For more information, contact Taryn Gingell, P2G Co-ordinator in Johannesburg, on 011 645 2551, or Shana Beinart, P2G Co-ordinator in Cape Town, on 021 286 2130.

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