Expanding and diversifying the bedrock of global Jewish peoplehood

When meeting with Jewish community leaders in Warsaw to explore the possibility of them joining Partnership2Gether, tears rolled down their cheeks. It happened once. It happened three times. I didn’t understand. For these leaders, our meetings represented the first time that a major Jewish organization extended an invitation to participate as equal partners in a mainstream Jewish program.

Warsaw’s leaders explained that either world Jewry came to help the Jewish community of Poland’s capital, or thousands of overseas Jews visit the concentration camps on an annual basis without ever thinking to visit the Jewish community that survived and has grown despite its horrific history. They were deeply touched to finally be invited to join efforts to cultivate global Jewish peoplehood and to be considered valued partners. To be able to contribute to strengthening global Jewry. This relationship-building is particularly crucial in relatively small Jewish communities like that of Warsaw, which along with the rest of Poland lost most of its Jews during the Holocaust. By partnering with larger Jewish population centers overseas — namely, in the US and Israel — these communities attain a more diversified and complex understanding of peoplehood.

The aforementioned encounter in Warsaw took place in the context of Partnership2Gether (P2G), The Jewish Agency for Israel’s strategic initiative that connects the Jewish people by creating enduring relationships between Israel and Jewish communities of the Diaspora. P2G’s 46 city-to-city and region-to-region partnerships — whose hands-on joint programming and personal interactions engage a combined 350,000 Israelis and Jews each year — form the bedrock of friendships and emotional investments which establish the bedrock of a global community.

Over the past year, P2G has strengthened its platform by adding third communities to existing partnerships. In 2019, Warsaw joined the partnership between Pittsburgh and the Israeli regions of Karmiel and Misgav. A few months later, the Czech capital of Prague joined the Hadera-Eiron’s partnership with 11 Southeast U.S. communities. Before these developments, the Partnership that pioneered this model was the Western Galilee Partnership with 16 U.S. communities known as the Central Region Consortium when it invited Budapest to join their “family”.

Why take the step of adding more third partners now? With Jewish communities worldwide facing common challenges such as declining attachment to Israel, expanding these relationships offers world Jewry an elevated level of interconnectedness, providing P2G participants with greater exposure to a truly global Jewish people.

For instance, in Poland, where Jews’ roots and connections to Judaism and Jewish life were lost and suppressed during and after the Holocaust, P2G’s expansion to Warsaw has given Pittsburgh as well as Karmiel and Misgav the chance to contribute to the renaissance in which Polish Jews are rediscovering their faith and reviving their culture.

In the words of Debbie Swartz, overseas planning associate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, these bonds enable American and Israeli participants in the trilateral partnership “to make an imprint and impact on a Jewish community that has many young people involved who are eager to make connections with Jews from other communities and in Israel.”

Adding Warsaw has enabled the partnership “to truly put global Jewish peoplehood into practice,” echoes Jan Levinson, former Chair of P2G’s Warsaw Connection. “Having another Diaspora community that is outside of the United States can put a mirror up in front of our faces, both here in Pittsburgh and in Karmiel/Misgav, and help strengthen our Jewish identities and strengthen our relationships with each other.”

Adding third partners to existing P2G partnerships also provides Israelis and American Jews with a consciousness about other Jewish communities around the world with which they were previously unfamiliar.

Prague, the newest community joining Partnership2Gether, has a strong and highly organized Jewish community that is already taking part in P2G programs during the early stages of the relationship.  In its first year, Prague has sent educators on the “Educators Exchange”, has six families participating in the “Same Moon” program designed for little children and their families, and will have four young people take part in this partnership’s seminal 12 day “Israeli2Gether” teen exchange.

Currently, The Jewish Agency is exploring the possibility of adding to existing bilateral partnerships the Jewish communities in Greece, Milan, Minsk, Moscow, and Odessa.

Ultimately, expanding P2G partnerships to third communities puts Jewish peoplehood at the forefront of communal conversation in the U.S., Israel, Europe, and beyond. We are acknowledging that instilling a sense of peoplehood is about not only strengthening connections to Israel, but also building these relationships through a global lens.

About the Author
Andrea S. Arbel is Director of Partnership Unit at The Jewish Agency for Israel.
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