Hosting the annual Partnership2Gether leadership mission in Tucson this year was ambitious and quite successful, says Oshrat Barel, director of the Weintraub Israel Center.
Six partnership delegates from Israel, Tucson delegates and local community stakeholders spent a week, from Feb. 26-March 5, discussing the program, its strengths and ways to deepen the region-to-region relationship.
Although the group’s schedule was grueling, and at times frustrating, the most difficult part was not having enough time, Barel says.
The partnership among Tucson, Israel’s Hof Ashkelon region and the Israeli city of Kiryat Malachi began in 1996. This year there are 651 children taking part in its school twinning program, which pairs 15 Tucson classrooms with their Israeli counterparts.
The local enterprise is part of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether Peoplehood Platform, formerly known as Partnership 2000, a global initiative that connects Jewish and Israeli communities. The program links about 450 communities, creating a global network of more than 350,000 participants annually.
Isaac Amar, Israel chair of the local partnership, says its annual leadership mission helps grow the partnership network as well as strengthen the bond between Tucson and Israel.
“Shared conversations, meetings and discussions on issues that concern the two communities greatly contribute to the understanding of the mission, to strengthen the relationship and to create a real partnership between the two communities,” he says.
Amar is a school principal in Rishon LeZion, so visiting Tucson Hebrew Academy and various Jewish afterschool programs in Tucson was a highlight of this year’s mission. “It warmed my heart to see children from the community,” he says, “come to study Hebrew and Jewish identity,” especially after their regular academic day.
Serving as a partnership chair gave him the opportunity to connect with Tucson’s Jewish community in meaningful way, he says. “It was a perfect experience of brotherhood.”
Being involved in the decision making process for educational programs for children was both a challenge and an honor, he adds.
Rebecca Crow, Tucson chair of the P2G program, says the relationships she’s helped develop are invaluable.
“Together, over the last four years, we have brought the Partnership program to a point where it is truly a bridge connecting both communities and bringing benefits to both sides,” says Crow.
The annual leadership mission helps committee members from Tucson and Israel see the positive impact of the partnership in real time, Crow says. “It also allows both committees to form meaningful relationships and expand our network; at the end of the week, we all feel like one big family.”
Among the week’s highlights for committee members, she says, was visiting the school twinning participants. “The twinning program is one of the stars of our partnership effort, and seeing how much both the students and the teachers were impacted was amazing.”
Crow says the partnership wants to further develop the school twinning program by adding a Tucson Fellows initiative, which would send teachers from both countries to visit their counterparts.
The group also wants to help expand the Coast to Coast Trail — a winding route that circles the Hof Ashkelon regional boundary — by offering visitors an opportunity to plant trees and decorate the recreational path, she says. They are also hoping to create a March of the Living cohort between the regions; participants would study together throughout the year and later meet in Poland and Israel.
“Our partnership mission is to build a bridge between Tucson and our Partnership communities,” she says. “And there is no doubt, over the past few years, we have built the program to a point that both sides equally benefit.”