I moved to Israel four months after graduating high school in 1990. I had learned about the "Concept" of Israel in Synagogue, through my family, and various other sources. The narrative, as I recall, was that a lot of bad stuff happened to the Jews…and then Israel was established and Jews would have a place to call their own. It wasn't until I joined a youth group in high school (BBYO), that Israel started to move from "Concept" to "Reality."
I met actual Israelis and started studying the country's politics and society. It was at that time that I became truly enamored with the thought of traveling to Israel. I sought out the Kibbutz Aliyah Desk in Philadelphia and purchased a one way ticket…then I told my parents of my intention to forgo, at least, my first year of college to live in Israel for an undetermined amount of time. It was a "Fun" conversation to say the least, but I am blessed to have very supportive parents. My friends thought I was crazy as a "Gap year" wasn't something that was as trendy or as encouraged as it is today.
Upon landing at Ben Gurion airport, I had the strangest sense of ease. For some reason I felt as though knew everyone, while clearly not knowing a soul. I soon realized it was because, for the first time in my life as a Jew, I was no longer the minority. Nearly every person within 100 feet of me was like me, Jewish. We all looked different, from skin color to language to attire, none were the same. Regardless of our differences, we were in fact one people. Even when an 80 year old Israeli woman nearly collapsed my lung trying to get her luggage from the carousel…I couldn't have been happier. Israel was finally a reality for me.
Since that time I have traveled to Israel approximately two dozen times and have lived in various parts of the country for a total of nearly two years. Today, I am writing this article from our community's sister region of Ramat HaNegev. I am here, with members of our community to view the status of our current joint projects, to receive an update from the municipal officials, and to seek new potential opportunities. One of the highlights of my itinerary is the Joan and Laurence Davis Scholarship Award Dinner that I attended last night at the Ramat HaNegev Desert-Agro Research Center. The entire event was Mamash Israeli; complete with casually dressed people, little kids, a random dog, and an incredible outpouring of passion and appreciation for education and the opportunity that the scholarships provide.
This scholarship program, which was created through the incredible vision and generosity of Joan and Laurence Davis, has allowed the Jewish Federation and community of Las Vegas to have a direct and profound impact on the future of this region and the entire State of Israel. Yet, I believe that very few in our community are actually aware that this program exists. We should take pride in the fact that over the past five years over 800 scholarships have been awarded for both vocational and college degree level programs. That is over 160 people every year, who have received between $600 - $2500. More than just the scholarships, the recipients have become a close knit family with a defined purpose of contributing to Israeli society. Additionally, Joan and Laurence have expanded their family and consider the recipients to be like their “Kids and grandkids." Judging by the way that they are received by everyone in this region, the feeling is not only appreciated, but overwhelmingly mutual.
This and other programs and initiatives that our community is helping to create and sustain in Ramat HaNegev are ensuring that the reality of Israel continues for generations from “L’dor v’dor.” Beyond the benefit to the people and region of Ramat HaNegev, there are valuable examples for our community in the work that is being done here. I look forward to bringing those examples and ideas back to Las Vegas to better our local community and build a stronger connection with the people and the reality that are the State of Israel. I am more that proud to be working on behalf of and representing our community in this endeavor.
As always, I welcome your comments at email@example.com