Partnership 2000 connects Diaspora with Israel

BY CARL MOSKOWITZ

“Thanks for providing me with such an amazing summer,” Elizabeth Gartenberg, a junior at Miami of Ohio University, told Partnership 2000 upon her return from Israel this summer. At the end of June, Gartenberg and four other students left St. Louis for Israel to work as volunteer counselors at a camp in Yokne’am, St. Louis’ sister city. These St. Louisans, who are full-time students at the University of Kansas, St. Louis University, Princeton University, Miami University of Ohio, and Syracuse University, were selected from a number of applicants after a lengthy interviewing process. Sponsored by the Federation’s Partnership 2000 Committee, they joined four students from Atlanta, Yokne’am’s other sister city, to work in the Israel Community Centers Association’s Kefiada program.

The Kefiada project has been implemented in Yokne’am as part of Partnership 2000 with the volunteer counselors coming from St. Louis and Atlanta. The Kefiada, a program within a three-week camp for 4th to 8th grade students in which assigned activities are run entirely in English, includes a day dedicated to Partnership 2000 and a “St. Louis and Atlanta Day” so the Israeli campers can learn about life in their partner communities. One of Partnership 2000’s goals is to reinforce Israel – Diaspora relations. The counselors spend a whole month in the region staying with local families which provides a unique opportunity to develop in-depth relationships.

“The volunteer counselors’ extended work with the children is a special experience,” says Joyce Becker, Kefiada coordinator for St. Louis’ Partnership 2000 committee. “Not only does it tie them to the Yokne’am/Megiddo region, but upon their return to the States they serve as Partnership 2000 ‘ambassadors’ with their friends, families and communities.

“For the volunteer counselors this is a unique opportunity to become acquainted with Israel through daily contact with children and the host families. And the campers get to practice their English language skills,” adds Susie Zimmerman, chair of St. Louis’ Partnership 2000 committee.

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Gartenberg comments that “The time spent in the Kefiada camp in Yokne’am was honestly one of my most powerful and influential summers. Each day was filled with different activities and we brought in a unique St. Louis perspective, teaching the Israeli children about American and St. Louis culture. Our activities ranged from the campers making their own stars, emulating the ‘Walk-Of-Fame’ in the Loop, to making instruments to show the strong influence of music in St. Louis. The campers seemed to thoroughly enjoy the activities we planned.”

Another volunteer counselor Jonathan Eisen, a freshman at the University of Kansas, adds “My time in Yokne’am is an experience I will never forget. I had the ability to become a part of the community, work at an Israeli day camp, and make connections with Jews in Israel. One of the highlights of the Yokne’am experience was the warmth and hospitality of my host families and the Partnership 2000 staff. Because of the leadership experience that the Israeli Partnership 2000 staff was able to provide me, I recently was chosen to serve as the University Hillel’s Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly representative this winter break. Eisen concludes with a sentiment shared by all the volunteer counselors that “Yokne’am is a special city and I am very grateful that I was able to participate in this wonderful program.”

For Nicholas DesLoge, a freshman at Syracuse University, this was his first visit to Israel. “There were several differences between Israel and the United States despite the usual changes you see in a different country like weather (which is gorgeous), the size, and economic differences. But in Israel,” he says, “you feel like you are walking on sacred ground and almost everywhere you go, you can find a reference to the Bible. Most importantly, it felt safe. I didn’t feel threatened for a single minute while I was doing work in Israel. This past summer’s experience opened up my mind to new cultures and gave me a much closer connection to Israel. I will never forget the lessons that I learned and the lives I was able to change. Psalms 137:5 sums up my experience quite nicely: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget her skill.'”

Carl Moskowitz is a St. Louis-based freelance writer and a member of St. Louis’ Partnership 2000 Committee.