By Kathy Carlson
A musical Shabbat – and maybe a little Nashville hot chicken – helped cement bonds between Americans and Israelis gathered here over a long November weekend through the Leadership2Gether program.
The program brought together Americans from several southeastern cities and Israelis from the region of Hadera-Eiron in northern Israel, about 35 people in all. They were in Nashville for four days, and earlier they had been in Jacksonville, Fla., one of the Partnership cities.
The regions are partnered through the related Partnership2Gether project of the Jewish Agency for Israel that links regions in Israel with communities in the Jewish Diaspora. The Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee is part of the Hadera-Eiron Southeast Consortium Partnership.
“This delegation is very hectic,” said Maya Shmaya, an elementary school substitute teacher in Pardes-Hanna. “We’re engaged in programs 12 to 14 hours a day. We were invited to two happy hours. We had very long days.”
She enjoyed learning more about Reform congregations in Nashville. An evening at Hillel at Vanderbilt with Jewsic City Shabbat – local young adults who host Friday night Shabbats with dinner and music – made a big impression.
“It was a fun Shabbat,” she said. “I didn’t know how hard the Jewish community works to keep being Jewish.”
The experience in the United States, she said, will “help each other to be more acceptable (accepting) to any other, such as special needs people.”
The Israelis in the program represent many different professions – business owners, graduate students, vice president of marketing, tour guide, Shmaya said.
They and Americans were paired for monthly group study, in which they got to know one another. But the real bonding came on the ground, when they met.
Rachel Hakimi, also from Pardes Hanna, runs her own retail business. She called her time in the United States an “amazing” visit and said she’d love to organize an exchange of Americans and Israelis organized together around Jewish food, in which people could “cook different meals in different kitchens.”
“We need to make a lot of people to like Israel. The situation now is better than it was a few years ago,” she said. “I feel people are more friendly about Israel.
As the weekend wound down on Sunday, participants pledged to keep the connections strong and to continue the work they started. This Leadership2Gether group will meet again in Israel next year.
“I have a lot of work to do at home,” Hakimi said. “I promise to do my best to continue doing amazing work.”
An American participant thanked the Israelis “for trusting us enough to come here.”
Christie Wiemers, of Nashville, participated in a Leadership2Gether event last year. “It’s important not to let it end here,” she said.
“We’re going to continue to get to know each other,” said Harriet Schiftan, Jewish Federation of Nashville associate executive director. She directs Partnership2Gether programs, including Leadership2Gether and many other exchanges.
“I can plan an itinerary,” she told the group. “You breathe life into it. … With every single one of you I had a moment that really inspired me.”
If you are a young adult age 27-45 and would like to participate in the next Leadership2Gether cohort, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. •