Reuven Avital is a Wexner Israel Fellowship alumnus who volunteers in several not-for-profits, including programs for students from weak backgrounds and from Ethiopian families and a home in the Negev for severely brain damaged patients. He is a director in several medical device and pharmaceutical companies developing new technologies in Israel and the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In April 2008, a Wexner alumni trip to Eastern Europe took place, with an equal number of North American and Israeli alumni of the three programs, led by Larry Moses and Prof. Deborah Lipstadt. The objective of this trip was to create a learning experience together about our recent history and enhance the sense of joint Fate and Destiny, terms we have all learned about in our different Wexner Programs. And, indeed, this was a very meaningful experience for all of us, much enhanced by the fact that Jews of different cultures, Israeli and North American, experienced this together and also built some important personal bridges and bridges between the three alumni communities.
So we, the trip participants, decided to do something extra together and try to repeat this experience for the younger generation of Jews visiting Poland.
During our trip, we saw groups of students from Diaspora and Israeli high schools traveling concurrently through Poland, experiencing the same itinerary, but, unfortunately, with no communication whatsoever between them.
We seek to change this and create the opportunity for these groups to meet each other, experience some of the trip together and discuss some of the basic issues relating to our ‘peoplehood.’ And we hope to do this through our network of Wexner alumni, thus creating another opportunity to mobilize the community’s alumni and bring us together over a specific issue.
Our objective is to have at least one Israeli and one North American school create a meaningful meeting in Poland in the spring of 2010, possibly over Shabbat, in which the students will be able to meet each other and share some of their experiences, conduct some guided activity and enrich lessons learned from their trip.
We are looking for one good match of schools, and if this pilot succeeds, we hope that other schools will be inspired to follow suit in the years to come.
Mobilizing our immediate network of trip participants and with help from The Foundation, we started contacting North American schools, Israeli schools and the Israeli Ministry of Education, which is very experienced in sending about 220 schools and 27,000 students to Poland every year. The Ministry will match suitable Israeli schools to American schools and help prepare teaching materials for the trip and preceding preparations.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also send their own groups of officers to Poland as part of their education, a trip that includes moving Jewish ceremonies at sites such as Maidanek and Auschwitz. A Wexner Israel Fellowship alumnus is the officer in charge of such programs and has invited our student groups to join and even take part in ceremonies. In fact, any mission that includes Wexner alumni is also invited to join such ceremony, and based on our experience last year, we are confident it will be a special experience.
Now, our North American network’s efforts have so far achieved
• The San Diego Jewish Academy plans to travel in April with an Israeli school from our southern border region with which it has a long-standing relationship.
• The Solomon Schechter of Essex and Union in New Jersey hopes to join one of the IDF ceremonies in 2010 and plans to meet with another southern Israeli school with which it has a relationship in 2011.
• Other schools in New York, Baltimore and the DC area have also expressed their interest, and may participate in the program.
In the coming weeks, we will work with these schools, the Ministry and the IDF to help them coordinate their programs and bring this project to fruition.
Meanwhile, our message to our fellow Wexner alumni in North America is: go to your schools, try to interest the decision makers and if you meet a positive response, let us know through The Foundation (please email Cindy Chazan at email@example.com) and we will try to take it from there. By doing so, you will be joining our effort to bring Israelis and North Americans together, older and younger alike.