February 7, 2012 14 Shvat 5772
New York, NY — If Jews can agree on anything it is the importance of delicious food and that, in the kitchen, nothing else matters. So it is fitting that Beit Shemesh—the site of widely-reported religious tensions last month—played host this week to some 150 participants of the Jewish Federation of North America’s (JFNA) ‘Heart-to-Heart’ Mission, as they learned the art of cooking kube and stuffed peppers from Yemeni, Moroccan and Kurdish residents of the town.
‘Heart to Heart’ is one of the most prominent JFNA donor missions to Israel. The women’s mission comes to Israel each year as a show of solidarity among North American and Israeli women and to deepen personal connections. The members of the delegation are Jewish business women, professionals and community leaders who participate in local Jewish and Zionist activities. During their visits on the mission, they meet with Israeli counterparts in business, social activism and community services as well as female leaders of the IDF.
The Israeli cooks with whom they paired in Beit Shemesh are part of a women’s empowerment project—run by the Jewish Agency for Israel as part of its Partnership2Gether initiative (formerly Partnership2000), which has paired Beit Shemesh and the Mateh Yehdua region with the Jewish communities of Washington D.C. and South Africa. The women’s empowerment project has brought together participants with Persian, Russian, Yemenite, Kurdish, Iraqi and Moroccan backgrounds to receive professional mentoring and instruction in operating catering business that serve the tourism industry.
In addition to receiving business instruction in Israel, program participants also travel abroad and conduct ethnic cooking workshops in Washington D.C and South Africa.
Partnership2Gether (P2G) has—over the past 15 years—become the Jewish Agency for Israel’s most successful and effective model for building direct, enduring, and meaningful partnerships between specific Jewish communities worldwide and sister communities in Israel. It is now the central platform for the promotion, empowerment, and development of deep connections among Jewish communities. P2G connects some 550 communities in Israel and 45 regions in Israel to the Jewish Diaspora. The director of the Jewish Agency’s partnership unit, Andrea Arbel, said that the meeting between the American women and cooks from Beit Shemesh, who have established their own businesses, is a true exhibition of solidarity among Jewish women.
“For generations the Jewish Agency has tackled world Jewry’s most pressing problems,” Arbel said. “Today one of these problems is the fraying of ties that once bound Jews in Israel and the rest of the world. The stories that the ethnic cooks shared with the Heart-to-Heart mission, as they instructed their fellow Jewish women, touched on the deeply personal attachment to cooking that so many Jews share as a reflection of family heritage.
“Creating such a human fabric in the Diaspora-Israel relationship is the best way to put the Jewish peoplehood back together and keep it together—despite whatever ideological, religious, generational and cultural differences could otherwise threaten our unity.”
During its visit to Israel, the Heart-to-Heart mission also visited several vineyards that were set up in the Beit Shemesh-Mateh Yehuda area with the support of Jewish Agency, and it visited Jewish Agency programs that assist youth at risk through the therapeutic use of animals and sports.
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About the Jewish Agency for Israel
Established in 1929, the Jewish Agency was instrumental in the founding of the State of Israel and now works to ensure the future of a connected, committed, global Jewish People with a strong Israel at its center. The Jewish Agency addresses the most pressing issues in Jewish life by working to Inspire Jews throughout the world to Connect with their people, heritage and land, and Empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and strong Israel. The Jewish Agency pursues this goal by bringing young Jews to Israel for life-changing experiences and involving them in social activism in Israel and abroad. More information can be obtained at www.jewishagency.org.