From L.A. to Tel Aviv —
An Israeli girl and a Los Angeles girl celebrate their bat mitzvahs together in Tel Aviv. Two Holocaust survivors from the same European town rediscover each other during an intercontinental videoconference call. Financial experts from Los Angeles assist their Tel Aviv counterparts to float Israel’s first municipal bond issue. A Tel Aviv fusion theater production of “The Dybbuk” as a Japanese Noh play debuts in Los Angeles. Israeli and Los Angeles experts start cleaning up Tel Aviv’s polluted HaYarkon River.
The scope and effect of projects in Israel funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have always been broad. But the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, with its specialization in hands-on, people-to-people programming seeks to transcend mere philanthropy in order to change the attitudes of Jews in both cities and create a mutual stake in each other’s Jewish life.
Most Federation philanthropic money raised for Israel in Los Angeles is still entrusted to the Jewish Agency for disbursement, while some of it goes directly to fund specific pluralism and security-related Jews in Crisis projects in Israel (see sidebars). Programs undertaken through the partnership program, however, are different — partly staffed from Los Angeles, planned and managed jointly with personnel in Tel Aviv and often including exchanges of staff and students.
The result, say organizers, participants and even occasional Federation critics, is a remarkably successful program that may change the nature of Israel-Diaspora relations — for the better.
The partnership, with its education, health, human services, culture and economic projects, harks back to Project Renewal, a 1980s Jewish Agency program for funding urban renewal projects in selected Israeli neighborhoods. Under Project Renewal, the Israeli government provided infrastructure and housing, while Diaspora communities underwrote such capital projects as community and child-development centers.
Even then, North American federations, including Los Angeles, began to insist that social renewal was a necessary part of urban renewal. They also demanded oversight of social projects and the inclusion of local residents in decision-making and managing.
Los Angeles’ renewal projects thus included drug rehabilitation, as well as community centers in a poor Jerusalem area neighborhood; big brother-sister and tutoring projects, rebuilding of an ancient Roman amphitheater in the development town of Beit Shean, and clinics and school projects in Ajami-Lev Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish area in Tel Aviv.
While meeting some of Israel’s needs, Project Renewal partly failed to satisfy Los Angeles planners’ and contributors’ growing preference for more directed giving and hands-on programming. “It was a colonial, lady bountiful approach, recalled Dr. Gerry Bubis, a Federation veteran.
In the mid-1990s, as the renewal projects were being absorbed by local Israeli municipalities, the Los Angeles Federation established a think tank, composed of both Federation personnel and Los Angeles immigrants in Israel, to consider how to use the skills and creativity of the Los Angeles community for future projects in the Jewish State. The old philanthropic model — “build us a park or a hospital and we’ll run it” — no longer seemed quite right.
When in 1998, Israel’s 50th anniversary year, the Jewish Agency announced its Partnership 2000 program, an umbrella under which Diaspora communities were called on to fund regional development projects in Israel, Los Angeles said yes — but no. The Federation insisted on being twinned not with a development town but with Tel Aviv, a metropolis whose sophistication and skills would match its own city.
And if the mercantile and cultural capital of the Pacific Coast was going to collaborate with the most sophisticated city in Israel, it wanted to do it partly on its own terms, establishing a peer relationship that would include professional, institutional and personal interactions and joint programming in the areas of the Federation’s priorities and expertise, especially education and social services. Cultural affairs and economic initiatives were added to the partnership later.
The idea was to affect the culture of both Jewish Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, to make the buzzwords “Israel-Diaspora relations” refer to something real.
The Jewish Agency objected to the loss of control over funds flowing through its pipeline, but The Federation persevered. After then-mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo appointed a committee to work with Los Angeles, the agency eventually gave its blessing.
From the first, the partnership’s steering committee of 15 lay and professional leaders from each side confronted significant differences in cultural expectations, organizational needs, basic assumptions and personal styles. The Tel Aviv people, explained Bubis, who currently serves on two partnership committees, were civil servants, unaware of the committee-consensus model by which The Federation makes decisions, while the Los Angeles contingent, as volunteers and professionals working for private agencies, had no idea how the Tel Aviv municipality operated.
One key element determined at those first meetings, at the insistence of Los Angeles, was that the partnership should include a Jewish-Israel component. Part of Los Angeles’ aim was “to make a relationship that would strengthen Jewish identity in both communities,” recalled Fredi Rembaum, who, as The Federation’s director of Israel-overseas relations for eight years, was instrumental in developing programming for the partnership.
The curriculum was designed to make Israel a more defined part of Jewish identity for Jewish students in Los Angeles, while being Jewish would be a component of Israeli identity for the Tel Aviv participants.
Semiannual steering committee meetings, alternating between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, as well as a communications network that includes videoconferencing and visits to each other’s communities continue to guide the partnership, whose main component areas are described below.
Education, with many projects planned and run through the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, is the oldest and most developed component of the partnership. The most visible and probably the most successful of the partnership projects — what Ed Robbins, an initiator of the partnership, calls education’s flagship — is the twinning of 12 schools in Los Angeles with schools in Tel Aviv for programs that include organized, ongoing communication and student exchanges.
The twinned schools include many day schools in the Los Angeles area, as well as the public Calabasas High School, whose student population is two-thirds Jewish. At Calabasas, the focus is not on Jewish peoplehood but on Israel’s relationship to the United States.
Student exchanges have slowed because of the security situation in Israel, but joint programming in the schools continues to address the subject of Israel-Diaspora relations and Jewish identity. Los Angeles day school teachers continue to meet with their peers in Israel to develop joint curriculum.
It is noteworthy that the Israeli schools, backing away from the classic Zionist view that the Diaspora exists to provide money and immigrants for Israel, have been extremely eager to pursue the twinning relationship. In fact, Marty Karp, who directs The Federation’s Israel office, suggested this may be the first time that pedagogical issues relating to Jewish peoplehood are being worked out between a Diaspora and an Israeli community.
A related project that predated the school twinning, Distant Friends, began with a film in which Los Angeles high school students discuss Jewish life in their city and their own sense of Jewish identity. The film, with an accompanying curriculum on U.S. Jewish life and Israel-Diaspora relations, has been used in approximately 70 Tel Aviv high schools. The project is currently being turned around — a film about Tel Aviv students and their lives as Israelis and Jews will be included in the curriculum of Los Angeles Jewish schools.
In Tel Aviv, a high school forum brings 40 students from 12 Tel Aviv schools together weekly to discuss issues of Jewish identity and Israeli-Diaspora relationships. The program will be broadened with a counterpart group established in Los Angeles, leading to exchanges and communication between the groups.
In addition, the partnership sends shlichim (student ambassadors — most of them young men and women just past their army service) to be counselors at Los Angeles Jewish summer camps.
The work-study Teach and Study Program (TASP) offers university graduates the opportunity to teach English for two years in Tel Aviv schools, while earning a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University in teaching language, especially English as a second language. Each of the 14 current TASP interns — their numbers down from 27 last year due to the security situation — is responsible for the English-language development of a group of 15 Israeli children.
A joint UCLA-Tel Aviv University course in Jewish studies brings students together through videoconferencing.
Health and Human Services
The partnership’s health and human services committee brought together Los Angeles’ Jewish Family Service and Tel Aviv’s Department of Human Services to jointly identify target areas for social welfare projects, particularly family violence, emergency personnel management and services for seniors and Holocaust survivors. The collaboration has allowed professionals in both cities to learn and adapt models from the each other’s care and delivery systems.
Cafe Europa, a social and support program for Holocaust survivors developed in Los Angeles, has been adopted and adapted by Tel Aviv, where an average of 150 survivors now are drawn weekly to two sites for socializing and programs. The project also includes videoconferencing between survivors in both cities.
In one of the most moving moments of the partnership connection, two Holocaust survivors — one in Los Angeles and the other in Tel Aviv — both from the same town in Eastern Europe discovered each other during a group videoconference.
Another import from Los Angeles is the Wellness Community, which offers support groups, lectures, social and health-enhancing events to hundreds of cancer patients and their families in the Tel Aviv area. Using a Los Angeles model, a Wellness Community hospice has been established in Tel Aviv.
The Zug or Peret Marriage Project, based on the Making Marriage Work course at Los Angeles’ University of Judaism, has been set up in Tel Aviv.
The Sandwich Generation Women, offering support and empowerment for midlife women, now reaches approximately 3,000 in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area.
The Beit Alochem center in Tel Aviv runs extensive social, cultural and psychological programming for disabled war veterans. It has now been expanded to include terror victims.
The Yad al Hadofek (friends to the elderly and homebound) program, modeled after a similar program run by Jewish Family Service, develops a cadre of volunteers who maintain regular contact with the elderly and homebound.
The Life Stories project uses tape, film and writing to document individual, family, neighborhood and community stories and trains individuals to handle the information gathering. The curriculum was developed in Tel Aviv and will soon be transferred for use in Los Angeles.
The Family Friends projects encourages senior citizen volunteers to adopt families with a disabled child. Other projects target domestic violence and violence against people with disabilities through educational programs in Tel Aviv workplaces.
As a center for the performing arts, Los Angeles has mounted a wide range of cultural collaborations and exchanges of artists with Tel Aviv, including performance projects and discussions in schools in both cities. The Inbal Ethnic Theater and Los Angeles’ Keshet Haim dance group collaborated on a project, as did the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and the Tel Aviv University School of Music, among others.
The production of S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk” in Japanese Noh style, featuring Tel Aviv actors, was directed by a Tel Aviv University professor, adapted by an expert on Japanese theater at UCLA, staged in Tel Aviv and then imported on video for showing in Los Angeles.
Curators from museums in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, have been linked for joint programming and institutional exchanges.
A master class workshop in filmmaking, staffed from Los Angeles and presented at Tel Aviv University, has also brought some young Tel Aviv filmmakers to Los Angeles on internships in the film industry (see page 12).
Economic initiatives, the most recent addition to the partnership, includes many projects that are still in the evaluation and planning stage that is expected to continue through 2003.
However, one project already under way, using financial expertise developed in Los Angeles, is helping Tel Aviv float the first municipal bond offering in Israel. The money will be used to create underground parking to relieve the city’s clogged thoroughfares.
Another ongoing project is a collaboration between businesspeople and environmentalists to clean up Tel Aviv’s badly polluted HaYarkon River.
A third large enterprise now being studied involves neighborhood revitalization in the Jaffa flea market area. Based on the model used in Los Angeles after the riots in the early 1990s, the Tel Aviv Genesis projects would combine urban investment and real estate development with community organizing, social welfare programs and small-business development.
About $1 million now flows from The Federation into the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, double the amount allocated in partnership’s first full year in 1998. The Federation anticipates increasing partnership allocations, however, the amount has not been revealed.
The partnership allocations comprise about 10 percent of The Federation’s funds earmarked for overseas use. Although there is perennial tension between overseas needs and local Jewish needs, no complaints have arisen about the allocations to the partnership. In fact, as Rembaum put it, a subsidiary goal of the partnership is to “blur the line” between support for Israel and support for the local community by doing both at the same time.
Has the Partnership Worked?
Federation personnel involved in the partnership seem convinced that it has been a great success. “Everyone is delighted where we’ve got to,” Federation President John Fishel proclaimed after an eight-hour steering committee evaluation meeting in Tel Aviv in October.
Yes, there are problems, Fishel acknowledged, naming “a certain fragmentation,” — too many small programs not connected to the mainstream partnership relationship. But even these, he insisted, putting a positive spin on it, merely indicate “opportunities for greater synergy.”
Lois Weinsaft, The Federation’s vice president for international planning, echoed Fishel, explaining that the partnership expects to “move away from smaller programs in order to concentrate money, energy and impact.”
On-the-ground appraisals from partnership personnel range from the evaluation by David Gill, the partnership’s Los Angeles chairman, that “everything worked” to first partnership chairman Herb Glazer’s acknowledgement, leavened with high grades overall, that some projects — he named several performance exchanges — simply “flopped.”
Meanwhile, even such critics of Federation programs and priorities as demographer Pini Herman voiced no criticism of the partnership in general. However, he did say that The Federation remains out of touch with local needs, while funding programs like the partnership, which provide overseas junkets for Federation executives and managers.
But Herman’s is a lone voice. Bubis, the founding director of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Relgion’s School of Jewish Communal Service and a Federation veteran who has sometimes voiced criticism of Federation programming, called the partnership “nothing short of spectacular — the leveraging of a relatively small amount of money for a remarkable payoff.”
In Tel Aviv, Los Angeles’ contribution has been warmly praised by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. “I’ve seen how much it contributes to the city, how much impact it has,” Huldai said, naming summer camps, day-care centers, projects for the elderly. “We feel we have partners.”
The fact is that the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership is young and still developing. It may simply be too soon to know what works well or what the long-range effects of partnership will be. One major success, observers said, is not programmatic but the promotion of volunteerism and layperson involvement on the Tel Aviv side.
As for the success of the specific programs, themselves, most have not yet been officially evaluated — a deficiency that The Federation is aware needs to be remedied — and many programs will require long-range follow-up to determine their effect on individuals and the two communities.
Meanwhile, Fishel is full of ideas for future partnering: extended-day kindergartens in Tel Aviv, a Tel Aviv spinoff of Los Angeles’ Mommy and Me programs; sending graduate business students to Tel Aviv to help on economic projects; broadening the school exchanges and finding ways for engaging youth groups on both sides; increasing the scope of joint curriculums, and consulting with other federations to learn what they are doing in their partnerships.
Partnership is “infinite in its possibilities,” Fishel enthused. “The more you’re working together, the more opportunities for collaboration.”
With the sense of connection to Israel decreasing measurably in the U.S. Jewish community, the collaborative framework appears to offer a possibility for reconnection, as people on both sides go beyond philanthropy to work together on Jewish issues and communal problems.
David Margolis, who lives in a small village in the
Judean hills, can be reached through his Web site, www.davidmargolis.com .
Federation Directs Funds Overseas
Currently, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles allocates about $11.5 million of the approximately $40 million it collects annually to overseas projects. Most of the overseas funds — some $9.5 million — are funneled through the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of North American federations, which divides the money between the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee on a 3-1 ratio.
Directed funds for "pluralism" programs amount to about $425,000. Funds for Jews in Crisis projects, which were raised in a separate one-time campaign, are funneled to projects in Israel without any administrative or fundraising costs deducted, a Federation spokesman said.
The Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership — allocations for which have doubled since its first budget year in 1998 — currently receives about $900,000 with an additional $300,000 earmarked for joint projects in Israel that are outside its formal structure. Another $100,000 goes to the partnership for administrative and programming needs from the Jewish Agency and the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, respectively.