Friends 6,000 Miles Away


A snowy winter day in Baltimore. School is closed. What did kindergarden students at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Lower School do? Of course they played in the snow. But they also took pictures and sent them to other kindergarten students in Israel who had never experienced snow before.

It was all part of a year-long program by The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and the Morton J. and Louise D. Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE) to create “people-to-people” programming and encourage educational connections between Baltimoreans and Ashkelonians from pre-K to high school.

In this week’s cover story, JT reporter Connor Graham explores the sister-city partnership with Ashkelon, a coastal Israeli city 44 miles west of Jerusalem, that began in 2003. During the 15-plus years of partnership, thousands of Ashkelonians and Baltimoreans have connected through volunteerism, joint ventures and projects, shared meals and friendship.

To finish off a year of connecting with Israeli children in Ashkelon, the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Lower School held a special assembly on Friday for its three kindergarten classes, where students presented a check for $100 to go to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, which treated those wounded by rocket attacks from Gaza and is a frequent target during attacks. The money was collected in a tzedakah box during the school year.

Joan Vander Walde works as a coordinator with CJE for the Shevet Achim program, a three-year school “twinning” partnership. Krieger Schechter Day School, The Ohr Chadash Academy, and the religious schools at Bolton Street Synagogue, Beth El Congregation and Beth Israel Congregation all participate in Shevet Achim.

“Our premise is that if you open your heart to someone, your mind opens also,” Vander Walde said. “The kids in Ashkelon are beginning to understand that there is a Jewish community in Baltimore that not only really cares about them, but in one way is really striving hard to be Jewish and to affiliate with the Jewish people.”

On May 15, JT reporter Susan Ingram attended the 2019 JCC Baltimore Jewish Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Ten honorees were inducted who have made lasting impacts on the Baltimore Jewish community. JCC CEO Barak Hermann said the honorees “truly embody the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world, as they all have made significant contributions to our society.”

JT reporter Victoria Brown visited Weinberg Village in Owings Mills and interviewed residents as they planted seedlings in the community’s outdoor garden space. Built by volunteers, the garden is a series of raised beds of different levels to make it easy for residents to plant and care for the vegetables and flowers.

In other news, Eric Fingerhut, who led Hillel International for five years, has been hired as CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Fingerhut will take charge at JFNA on Aug. 6. Referring to Fingerhut’s work at the Jewish campus organization, Mark Wilf, JFNA’s board chairman, said, “He took a 90-year-old organization and made it new again.”

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