Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Omer Yankelevich visited The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore virtually the morning of Aug. 20 to learn about Jewish Baltimore and engage with Diaspora Jews.
The meeting was coordinated by the Jewish Federations of North America, according to Yehuda Neuberger, chair of the Associated Community Planning and Allocations. Any other year, the minister would have come in person. But, as travel is restricted and less safe this year, the gathering and presentations were held online.
Participants included Neuberger; representatives from the minister’s office; Beth Goldsmith, The Associated’s chair of the board; Ruth Miller, chief of Community Planning & Allocations; local rabbis; a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor; and staff from the Macks Center for Jewish Education; Jewish Community Services; and CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.
“A series of different people joined for different events, to present a variety of views from the community,” Neuberger said, estimating around 18 people joined in total at various points.
Goldsmith began the program with a demographic report. Then, each person provided a sense of what The Associated does and its various roles in the Baltimore community. Organizers also designed the program to show how The Associated responds to crises.
“Some of the activities highlighted were responses to COVID-19. But we had the opportunity to present our responses not only to this but how we respond to any challenge in the community,” Neuberger said.
“We literally had one hour and the amount of things we did in one hour I thought was great,” said Goldsmith, who moderated what she called a perfectly choreographed program. “And [Yankelevich], who is furiously gorgeous, I kept telling her we’re like cheerleaders. She was such a cheerleader for Diaspora Jewry, and I’m a cheerleader for Baltimore.” Goldsmith shared that the minister emphasized that there are 15 million Jews, not only the 7 million in Israel. “We’re all one family. So she’s working on getting Israeli Jews to appreciate the that and start an ongoing dialogue.”
Neuberger said the minister also spoke on how she hopes The Associated will continue these missions and that the Jewish Baltimore community is particularly unified. “She commented on, for example, how the synagogues engage differently but regularly nonetheless,” Neuberger said. “That’s something that stood to out her.”
Yankelevich repeated this message in a statement afterward.
“It is obvious, even from Zoom, what a strong and special community this is,” wrote Yankelevich, who plans to visit in person when it is safe again. “I was especially moved to see how the different leaders and communities work together and cooperate, regardless of the distinctions between them. This is the exact message that I have embraced and am promoting as Minster of Diaspora Affairs: We, the Jewish nation, must focus on what connects us. Ultimately we share a common destiny.”
She will take the stories and lessons from The Associated’s presentations back with her to the Israeli government to ensure Diaspora Jews’ voices are heard and considered.