As I have referred to in a variety of different circles, the Weintraub Israel Center, a partnership between the Tucson J and Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona (JPSA), has developed a generative mission statement that invites each of us to go on a self-propelled journey to individually connect in a way that is meaningful to us and also to connect as a collective community.
On Sunday, April 30, over 1200 people from Southern Arizona, ranging in a variety of demographics, joined the Weintraub Israel Center at the J to explore, learn, taste, hear, and connect with Israel. The community-wide festival provided people multiple pathways to connect with Israel and Israelis. The festival opened with the Immanuel Presbyterian Church BSA Scout Troops 157 serving as our Color Guard and Hillel’s Chai Notes led us in beautiful renditions of the National Anthem and Hatikvah. We had a moving 12 Torches Ceremony MC’d by Rebecca Crow, honoring community leaders who have made a positive impact across Southern Arizona. During the ceremony, Linda Behr, Deanna Evenchik-Brav, Austin Cohen, Ken Goodman, Rep. Alma Hernandez, Adina Karp, Teresa Cavendish, Diego Peña Lopez, Rabbi Louchheim, Bobby Present, Mayor Regina Romero, Zach Schlamowitz, Talya Fanger-Vexler, and Wolfgang Hellpap (on behalf of The Holocaust Survivor Group of Southern Arizona) were recognized.
It was such an honor to have Mayor Romero in attendance and for her to share her thoughts on the importance of a strong relationship with Israel. We were also very fortunate to have Congressman Juan Ciscomani and his family attend the Festival. Congressman Ciscomani also spoke on the relationship between the US and Israel and the necessity of bipartisan support. His son shared with us some of what he had learned about Israel’s missile defense system, having recently done a project on Israel for his school.
Assistant Professor Daniel Arnon and Dr. Sharon Megdal each led informative and engaging lectures. Doug Levy from Feast hosted an Israeli wine tasting. They zoomed in Oded Hatzabni, from Yarden Family Wines, in Israel, to talk about the wines everyone was sampling. Bet Shalom and Rabbi Avi Alpert also hosted a spirited Israeli whiskey tasting.
At the festival, we debuted the Humans of Israel photo exhibit, a project that seeks to capture the most fascinating people in Israel in order to tell its fuller story. Each photo and story provide a glimpse into the heads and minds of a variety of Israelis. In this exhibition, ultra-religious Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Christians are featured alongside asylum seekers and the one percent on Rothschild Blvd. It features Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, American, Russian, French Jews, all the ingredients that make Israeli society one of the most diverse in the world. The exhibit is currently up in the J’s Fine Art Gallery through the end of May. While it will be coming down over the summer, we will be bringing it back in the spring, with an opportunity to hear from the creator of the exhibit.
We also had an amazing group of community organizations who created and ran wonderful art projects such as card making, air clay, Cholot Eilat (sand art), 3D felt making art class, and decorating clay pots. Among many more fun and meaningful activities, we also had an organization set up “Ya’akov’s Tent,” where visitors enjoyed tea and dates.
I want to take a moment to thank all of our community partners who helped make the festival a huge success: Congregation Anshei Israel, BBYO, Beit Simcha, Bet Shalom, Beth Shalom Temple Center Green Valley, Chabad, Congregation Chaverim, Chofetz Chayim, CUFI, Hadassah, Handmaker, University of Arizona Hillel Foundation, the Jewish Latino Teen Coalition, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona, The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, Kol Ami Synagogue, The Lone Soldier Project, Midbar Project, Mishelanu at the University of Arizona, Northwest Tucson Jewish Community, PJ Library of Southern Arizona, Team Tucson, Tucson Hebrew Academy, The Boy Scouts of America Catalina Council, and the Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center.
At the Tucson J annual meeting, Tucson J President + CEO, Todd Rockoff gave an update on the J’s most recent strategic plan. The five pillars of the plan are: engaging families with young children, creating innovative Jewish programming, philanthropy, general community outreach, and technology and infrastructure. Out of the plan, the J developed an engagement strategy that involves building on the idea of “the WE.” The WE is people, community, agencies, organizations and synagogues. This WE mindset was instrumental in the planning and execution of the Israel at 75 Festival.
As we move into creating year-long opportunities to connect with Israel and Israelis, we will use the Z3 framework out of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto to continue to guide our work. The framework includes three principles: unity not uniformity, engaging as equal partners and a diversity of voices.
This framework is about peoplehood not politics, and while there is much to talk about and diversity of opinions, we celebrate that for the past 75 years we lived at a time when there has been a sovereign Jewish State. We look forward to celebrating Israel at 75 throughout the year, and for everyone in our community to embark on a personal, self-propelled journey, where individually we connect in a way that is meaningful to us. May we continue to go collectively from strength to strength.