In November 2022, two representatives from the Bialik School, in Rosario, Argentina, toured the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island. While meeting with JCDSRI faculty and Alliance staff, they discussed plans for shared curriculum and professional development.
Their visit was part of a broader campaign by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island to build meaningful partnerships with Jews around the world. Over the course of 2023, Jewish Rhode Island will take you behind the scenes for a glimpse of the Alliance’s partnerships with organizations in Argentina, Poland and Israel.
The roots of these partnership efforts were forged in 2020. The pandemic underscored the importance of people-to-people interactions, which can sometimes be overlooked in a federation’s traditional role as a funder of the Jewish community abroad.
But money is far from the only resource an organization can offer, especially one with connections to most institutions in local Jewish communities. For the Alliance, which is part of the Jewish Federations of North America, the partnerships are an opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength.
Throughout 2021, the Alliance worked closely with its largest overseas partner, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to hone the list of potential partnership regions. The focus then turned to details: How could the Alliance deepen the connection between Rhode Island’s Jewish community and communities abroad?
An existing partnership with Afula-Gilboa, Israel, served as a potential model. The Alliance has worked with this region for decades through its relationship with the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI). Support has gone to a range of programs and services, including Youth Futures, Nativ and Core.
But there’s a human side to the partnership, too. If you’ve ever interacted with one of the Alliance’s shlichim, young Israeli emissaries educating Americans about their country, then you have seen it in action.
Elihay Skital, the Alliance’s current shaliach, says that it is important work.
“I regularly work with over 30 organizations – Hillels, Sunday schools, senior cafés – in addition to the Israeli Culture Series” and teaching community Hebrew classes, he says.
Skital sees his work as contributing to both the American and Israeli Jewish communities. He gives Israel a human face, showing Americans a nuanced, thoughtful picture of the country. (“When you go to Israel, you understand that it’s not all milk and honey,” he says.)
Skital is also an ambassador for an American Jewish community that is sometimes misunderstood.
“These are family from abroad,” he says of American Jews. “Look, their Judaism is a little bit different from what we grew up with. But it’s also beautiful. That doesn’t mean it’s not Judaism.”
Connections between Israelis and the diaspora are important for our shared Jewish future – and so are connections within the diaspora. Many Polish Jews hid their religion from their children after the Holocaust, but since the fall of Communism, a wave of Poles has rediscovered their roots, with some struggling to find their place in the Jewish world.
In 2013, community leaders founded a Jewish Community Center in Warsaw, which is the Alliance’s main relationship in this new region. Last summer, the Alliance’s CEO, Adam Greenman, and its board chair, Harris Chorney, visited the Warsaw JCC as part of Ukraine relief work. They came away impressed with its interfaith and multicultural work, and especially its “come as you are” brunches that welcome Jews and non-Jews alike for conversation and community.
Moving ahead, the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence, may develop similar programming, and the two JCC youth programs are looking at potential collaborations as well.
For a third partnership, the Alliance turned to Rosario, Argentina. At 1.3 million people, the city’s similar size to Rhode Island made the organization confident it could make an impact. The Alliance’s giving in this region focuses on academic scholarship, which helped pave the way for a deeper relationship with its day schools.
During that November visit, JCDSRI and the Bialik representatives also discussed pen-pal programs or student-to-student Zooms.
The Alliance plans to reinforce these partnerships with its own programming. For example, the organization hopes to complement its existing Hebrew and Spanish classes with one in Polish. It’s part of an approach that prioritizes treating global partners as teammates moving toward the same set of Jewish values. Rather than a one-way street, the Alliance hopes to benefit from the knowledge each partner brings to the table from years of serving its local communities.
In the coming months, Jewish Rhode Island readers will be introduced to more specifics in each partnership region, and how they can become involved in this important work. In March, Jewish Rhode Island will feature Rosario; in late spring, Warsaw; and in early fall, Afula-Gilboa.
As the programs continue to grow and evolve, the Alliance hopes you will join in building a more globally connected Jewish world.
TUVYA BERGSON-MICHELSON is a junior at Brown University and an intern at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.