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JFSA vp’s Partnership2Gether visit to Israel affirms bonds with Southern Arizona

SAHI-volunteers-with-hand-sanitzerParticipants in the S.A.H.I. program for at-risk youth give out hand sanitizer in Kiryat Malachi, Israel. (Courtesy Adi Shacham, director of P2G Kiryat Malachi-Hof Ashkelon)
Aviva Zeltzer-Zubida, Ph.D., vice president for planning and engagement at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, at the Partnership Point on a hiking trail in Hof Ashkelon. (Courtesy Zeltzer-Zubida)

In early June, Aviva Zeltzer-Zubida, Ph.D., vice president for planning and engagement at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, visited Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon in Israel for what she calls a “deep dive” into the Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership2Gether program.

Zeltzer-Zubida met with representatives of social service programs that are Federation and Jewish Community Foundation grantees, beneficiaries of some of those programs, and municipality representatives. Her aim, she says, was not only to understand “the impact of our dollars but also to maintain and deepen some of these relationships.” In Israel, the program is coordinated by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Over the more than two decades of the partnership, many visitors have gone from Southern Arizona to Israel and vice versa. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, with travel drastically curtailed, Zeltzer-Zubida’s visit stood out.

“Of course we spoke about COVID,” she says, noting that during her stay, Israelis and Americans were dealing with many of the same concerns, from people losing jobs due to prolonged lockdowns designed to slow the virus spread, to helping kids through a confusing time – “kind of renegotiating our everyday lives.” Her partnership visit was part of a longer visit that included a two-week quarantine and seeing family in israel.

In Kiryat Malachi, where many people struggle economically, one project helping people during the pandemic is S.A.H.I., which empowers at-risk youth through volunteer activities. “During COVID, they took a major role in making sure that elders who couldn’t leave their homes would get food packages, they did shopping for them, made welfare calls – they would go from house to house to knock on the doors,” says Zeltzer-Zubida. “These are 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds that really took responsibility for taking care of these families and seniors in need. It was absolutely amazing to see that – in times of crisis they really stepped up.”

“Aviva’s visit was highly important for our partnership, ” says Adi Shacham, director of P2G Kiryat Malachi-Hof Ashkelon . “She shared  with the Israeli partners the latest updates from the Tucson community and explained about the strategic planning process the Federation is leading. It was eye opening and  important for them to understand the whole picture, to better understand the rationale behind the decisions that will shape the future of the partnership between the communities — meaningful with many connections between people, organizations and ideas.”

Zeltzer-Zubida’s trip came as Federation and Foundation began working toward a new Israeli engagement strategy.

“Many programs we’re funding in the region are actually part of larger national initiatives that are operated by really big change agents in Israel,” she says, noting that one part of the new strategy is to leverage local relationships to create strategic partnerships with the national organizations.

One example is the Rashi Foundation, which operates a program similar to the Cradle to Career Partnership that helps students in Tucson and 70 communities across the U.S. The Israeli project is active not only in the Federation’s partnership region, she says, but also seven other sites in Israel.

Zeltzer-Zubida was touched that Israeli lay leaders from the partnership asked about the Bighorn Fire, which was raging in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson at that time. “It was heartwarming to realize that they have real relationships and real connections that they worry about,” she says.

Another highlight of her partnership visit was watching students in a two-year entrepreneurial program called Unistream make “Shark Tank”-style presentations, in English, to volunteer investment committees made up of Israeli business leaders, including the CEO of Facebook Israel. Zeltzer-Zubida joined a committee that heard three proposals. She most impressed by a group of four girls from Beersheva who developed a plastic rape drug detector the size of a coin for checking beverages. A group of boys from a Bedouin settlement also stood out with a sophisticated pill dispenser a friend or family member of a senior with dementia can program to open the right section at the right time. The third presentation was cute, she says — a paper slip for ice cream cones called “Ice Clean.”

Zeltzer-Zubida hopes to engage more Southern Arizonans in the Unistream program.

She returned from her trip with a suitcase full of personal protective equipment including 250 cloth facemasks sewn by people from southern Israel with special needs, and 50 plastic face shields made at a factory in the south. All bore the inscription, “With love from your partnership.” She distributed this bounty to local synagogues and the Tucson Jewish Community Center.