Shalom! We just finished Federation’s long-awaited Community Journey, and I am writing this piece while I am still here, in Israel. To be here on the cusp of the country’s 75th birthday is almost unimaginable. A place that, at least my entire life, we always talked about, dreamed about, and worried about, is really 75. It’s a modern country now, full of life and diversity and all the complexities that come with that.
It’s truly an honor to be here with so many members of our community. It’s been wonderful to have 10 of our communal rabbis, many of the heads of our Jewish agencies in Atlanta, and so many of my colleagues from Federation on this trip. This is a very diverse group of people from our community, including observant individuals and more secular individuals, those on the right and those on the left, gay and straight, first-timers and people who have visited Israel multiple times, old and young. It’s a beautiful representation of JewishATL.
While we are visiting here during a very intense political moment, it has not impacted the experience. I’m especially proud of the options we have given participants. I spent one day on a hike that was absolutely beautiful, to a part of Israel I never been to. I spent another day visiting sites like Caesarea with first timers, and another visiting places like the Israel Blood Bank, which was a vision of our very own Marcus Foundation in Atlanta. It’s been beautiful each evening to come back and feel and hear the buzz of everyone bragging about the experiences they had through various eyes around this wonderful country.
We started this trip on Holocaust Remembrance Day. We heard from Dr. Rachel Korazim, who is a Holocaust expert, and she framed the importance of this day in profound ways. In addition to recognizing the continued trauma the Shoah has caused our people. She also gave us context for understanding the division in the country right now and helped us to recognize the importance of understanding the perspective of other people before you judge their opinions. For instance, a Satmar Hassid in 1930’s Europe saw the world very differently than a secular Jew in Budapest. It reminded me that listening and understanding others is more important than judging others on perspectives that don’t align with mine.
Another highlight on this trip was when we visited our partner city in Yokneam. We each visited with local families and were welcomed into their homes. It was wonderful to have open conversations with these families and be welcomed into their homes with their families to share a meal. They are families just like ours in Atlanta, trying to make sure their families feel connected to their Jewish identities. There’s so much we can learn from one another and it’s so beautiful to have these relationships.
The importance of our community visiting Israel is not just to experience it, but to bring it home. Half of the Jewish world is in Israel now, and it’s so important that as we build a Jewish future in Atlanta, we have a living bridge to Israel. We are one family living in two different places and we must be connected. The only way we will be connected is through peoplehood, and that means relationships of people to people.
As Israel has reached the age of 75. It’s more important than ever that the Atlanta community spend time strengthening their ties to Israel and understanding its history, its challenges, and its opportunity to be an important force to the future of the Jewish world as we know it. It must be a part of all our educational experiences, and it must continue to be a part of our philanthropy. We are so blessed to be living in an age where we can celebrate Israel’s 75th and still live free as a vibrant Jewish community in a city like Atlanta. Let’s continue to build and strengthen this bridge in every way that we can, and let’s come back here as often as we can.
Eric M. Robbins is the President and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta