Ten years ago when THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore launched its Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership with our sister city in Israel, no one could have anticipated just how much this relationship would flourish.
One of the hallmarks of this Partnership has been the strong connection formed person-to-person and the recognition of the similarities that link our two cities. In the years since its creation, the Partnership has witnessed 10,000 Baltimoreans traveling Ashkelon to visit, volunteer and forge strong bonds with individuals and families there. ASSOCIATED leadership, mission participants, young adults on Taglit-Birthright Israel, JCC Maccabi team members, teens, day school students, synagogue members and those active with other local Jewish organizations have all spent time in the southern Israeli city.
The foundation of the Partnership is the shared values of our two communities and the issues of mutual concern. The importance of volunteerism has been one area of interest in both cities and we have seen the fruits of all of our labors pay off.
In Ashkelon, interest in volunteering among teens has grown exponentially during the course of the partnership. Seven years ago, 900 teens were volunteering in their city. Today, almost 6,000 teens give their time and talents to Ashkelon.
The Stuart and Marlene Greenebaum Volunteer Center in Ashkelon enables both locals and visitors to the community to connect in meaningful ways to serving the needs of the Ashkelon community.
Likewise, the issue of Jewish identity is one of great importance in both Baltimore and Ashkelon. Through the Partnership, people of all ages connect to each other and experience firsthand the reach and import of our global Jewish family.
As we hear disturbing news about anti-Israel sentiments on college campuses and among young people, these personal encounters can help solidify a positive relationship between the next generation of Jews and Israel.
The strong bond between our communities provides great comfort to our friends in Ashkelon during times of crisis in Israel. When rockets are launched from Gaza, hundreds of them land in Ashkelon, driving the citizens into bunkers and their homes, away from their daily routines. During these difficult times, our community lends support through social media, phone calls and emails to Ashkelon. Our counterparts in Ashkelon have all expressed great appreciation for the love and concern they feel from friends in Baltimore. For those who are involved with this sister city relationship, the conflict in Israel becomes very personal when the people under attack are those with whom we have spent time, shared Shabbat meals and consider our friends.
Looking ahead, we are excited about new opportunities for our Partnership. We are seeing a new culture of involvement in Ashkelon, where the first cadre of lay leadership is now becoming active in the Partnership.
Locally, we are also expanding Partnership programming so that all who want to be part of our relationship with Ashkelon can get involved.
For a decade, the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership has bridged the miles that span between our two communities, showing all of us the rich rewards which come from being part of a global Jewish family.
This column also appeared in the January 4, 2013 Baltimore Jewish Times.