Nov 22, 2013

Exploring Our Homeland and Building Community Together: The First Community Leadership Mission

Earlier this month, it was my absolute joy and privilege to travel to Israel for five transformative days with 30 of our Jewish community’s key leaders. Intended to build bonds among lay and professional leadership from our Federation, synagogues and organizations, our Federation’s first Community Leadership Mission exceeded all expectations. We traveled together from November 5-10, just prior to the JFNA General Assembly. Grateful to Mission Co-chairs Diane & Larry Feldman and Betty Kane, I’m still bursting with nachas (pride) and running on all the ruach (spirit) we raised.

Many in our group had never before even met or spoken. But, as we learned and prayed, danced and sang, laughed and cried, toured and ate with each other, we grew together as friends and, exponentially, as leaders of a community united in caring and embracing of our vibrant diversity.

Click here for more photos from this remarkable Mission.

Looking for a few highlights from an experience of this magnitude isn’t really possible. The emotions and senses, as well as impact on our community, cannot be summed up by telling you the sites we explored, the high level experts we spoke with or even our visits to some of the extraordinary things our community’s generosity helps make possible. After following in the footsteps of our homeland’s history and geography, sacrifices and security, human services and entrepreneurship, what stands out most is our having experienced them together.

Our clergy were instrumental to the depth and power of our Mission. Rabbis Dan Levin of Temple Beth El, Philip Moskowitz of the Boca Raton Synagogue, Reuven Feinberg of Torah Academy and Josh Broide of Boca Raton Jewish Experience and recipient of the Federation’s 2013 James & Marjorie Baer Young Leadership Award continually led and inspired us in prayer, study, song and far more, including a poignant ceremony at Yad Vashem.

Alongside heads of our local beneficiary agencies, we explored Israeli services provided through our partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Ethiopian National Project (ENP). With the expertise of Danielle Hartman, President & CEO of Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service, Randy Colman, Executive Director of Adolph & Rose Levis JCC, and Raina Goldberg, Executive Director of Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach, we explored similarities and differences of local and overseas programs.

Gazing out from an IDF Base at this geographically tiny country’s northwest corner, far closer to Beirut than Jerusalem, we saw and felt the proximity of Israel’s enemies, our enemies. Together, we stood with Israel in true understanding of what it takes to maintain security for our brothers and sisters at the frontlines of the Jewish people.

Click here for more photos from this remarkable Mission.

In our sister city Kiryat Bialik, we were greeted with food, entertainment and the warmest hospitality by their community and Partnership 2Gether leaders as well as exchange program participants, with whom we’ve built a living bridge across the globe for more than a decade.

Shabbat in Israel is always memorable for those of us from the diaspora, and we’ll never forget the one we shared. From a Friday afternoon visit to Machane Yehuda marketplace bustling with shoppers, we headed to the kotel for Kabbalat Shabbat. Worshiping in some different ways and places, our rabbis and other men, some for the first such experience, came together to dance in a mesmerizing circle with 50 spirited soldiers to joyously welcome the Sabbath bride.

Our ruach rose to a new pitch at a Shabbat hotel dinner with 250 people from other community missions. The event changed character when our rabbis upped the ante, leading our three tables in zemirot (Sabbath songs) so ardent the silverware jumped off the table and others joined us – including JFNA President & CEO Jerry Silverman. The zemirot led to an array of rock favorites til we reluctantly abandoned our tables after two hours to let the staff close up.

The next night, as the sun set over Jerusalem and Shabbat drew slowly to a close, we came together on a balcony overlooking the Old City for a deeply moving Havdalah ceremony. None of us wanted to break that moment together by leaving for evening activities.

Before we separated at the end of the journey, we sat in a circle where we spoke of our time and our future together. The power of community was present as everyone shared heartfelt commitments to spread and strengthen the bonds we’ve been forging - both before and during the Mission - to create a new kind of South Palm Beach County Jewish community. A community in which, from our diversity, we stand as one for Israel, we rise as one to preserve Jewish identity, and together we answer the call to understand and care for each other – at home, in Israel and wherever our Jewish family is in need. I’m exhilarated by how far we’ve come and excited about our community’s incredibly bright future.

As my friend and colleague Rabbi Reuven Feinberg eloquently wrote in Torah Academy’s newsletter last week, “I feel honored to live in Boca Raton for many reasons and now I know one more - to be part of such a phenomenal Federation. I now have a much better perspective on the wonderful things our Federation accomplishes and even more so had the opportunity to make lasting friendships with those who work together to make it happen. I hope to continue to not just take our Yeshiva to greater heights, but to do it in partnership with our local Federation and greater community.”

So don’t hesitate to contact me at asktheceo@bocafed.org about what you’d like to experience with your community and to share your ideas about how we can continue to grow and thrive together.

B’shalom,

Matthew C. Levin, President & CEO
Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County

Past Messages from Matt