Note: Nancy Gertner traveled to Israel last month with a group of women from her synagogue, Beth El Congregation. She shares her insight from a day spent in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city.
There is little question that a highlight of any trip to Israel is its large and bountiful breakfast. This can be said for our morning meal at the Royal Beach Hotel on the third day of Beth El Women’s recent journey to Israel. Certainly, no one could have boarded our bus feeling hungry. We had a busy morning with a speaker, picked tomatoes in a hot field and then started for Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city, fairly later than scheduled. Once we arrived at our sister community, we were all impressed with the tour, learning about the Baltimore-Ashkelon relationship and how The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is involved in this third partnership, which has come to be so meaningful to so many Baltimoreans and Israelis because of the true involvement in helping each other and the meaning of the ten-year-long relationship.
The Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is based on mutual respect – trust, transparency and honesty – as the two communities strive to collaborate on projects that build long-lasting and meaningful friendships as well as a greater love for Israel and the Jewish people. Every year, at least 1,000 people travel from Baltimore to Ashkelon. The Associated is committed to tikkun olam, repairing the world. In 2013, The Associated allocated $7.1 million from their Annual Campaign not only to help meet the needs of the Jewish communities in Israel and around the world but also to keep our local community connected to Israel.
We arrived after 2:00 p.m. at the Ethiopian Cooking Workshop at the Steven Russel Teen Center, where over 20 Ethiopians greeted us warmly with kisses and excitement. Together, we were to prepare lunch, and, by then, everyone was hungry. First, we cut and chopped vegetables, working with strong spices. Since they used paper towels as potholders, we quickly realized that we own better cooking equipment than the Ethiopian women, so we started taking up a collection for their future meal preparation. Potatoes, carrots and other vegetables were peeled and chopped; soon, the whole room was tearful over the onion chopping. We got lunch and green pea soup going, and together we “broke bread” and tasted all the strange foods that the Ethiopians have brought to Israel as immigrants with their own stoves on their heads.
There is so much to learn from a different culture, but we share Judaism as a way of life. This ancient peoplehood has prayed to travel from Africa to our same promised land for so many years and they have suffered so much during this process. Yet, we can be so proud of Operation Moses and Operation Solomon and of our own Associated federation, which has ensured the absorption of this part of Israel, even without real jobs and Hebrew language.
It was quite a lunch; smells filled the room and, personally, I ate a good bit of Ethiopian bread. The experience was one none of us will forget. As we boarded the bus, there were more hugs and kisses, and the women were obviously thrilled by our visit.
We can be so proud of The Associated and the funding it has provided to make this partnership work, and to preserve the Ethiopian culture in its midst. Money given to The Associated supports all of Baltimore’s local agencies, projects in Israel such as this and needs in every country all over the world where there are Jews.
Through The Associated’s Annual Campaign, the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership is able to support many projects, including educational opportunities to vulnerable populations in Ashkelon, such as the Ethiopian immigrants. Last year, The Associated supported the Ethiopian National Project’s Scholastic Assistance program that aims to increase the number of Ethiopian students who successfully pass their matriculation exams as well as to improve their level of achievement in these exams. The Associated also supported PACT in Ashkelon that aims to close the Ethiopians immigrants’ education gap through a range of programs for children up to age six and their parents. Last but not least, The Associated contributed to ‘Completing the Journey,’ a grant which enabled the federation system to bring the final group of Ethiopian immigrants to their Jewish homeland.
There are plenty of opportunities to connect with and provide needed support in Ashkelon. Contact Stephanie Hague at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-369-9294 to learn more.