S.F. federation organizes two-pronged mission to Israel

Meetings with Knesset members. Meetings with Jewish Agency officials. Meetings with spokesmen from the Israel Defense Force. Meetings with citizens whose lives have been immediately impacted by the violence.

The formula is quickly becoming routine for solidarity missions to Israel — sprung up as a result of the ongoing outbreak of violence in Israel and the Palestinian controlled-areas.

The Bay Area's first delegation of American Jews to partake in such a mission will head to Israel on Nov. 26. Approximately 30 people will join the five-day trip.

Like all those missions that have been visiting Israel in the past six weeks, this one organized by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation is designed with two goals in mind.

"One is to demonstrate to our friends, and the people we have working relationships with in Israel, that our community is concerned, and our presence should speak volumes," said Sam Salkin, the new chief executive of the JCF.

Also, "when we come back, we'll be able to convey to people the feelings and the anxiety and the complexities on the ground," said Salkin. "We'll be better able to convey it to the community and be supportive of an incredibly complicated situation."

JCF President John Goldman agreed. "We hope to get a more complete picture of what is happening."

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, is also going.

Mission participants will meet with Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. They will talk with psychologists and journalists about the impact the situation is having on Israeli society. And while it is not confirmed yet, they hope to meet with a representative of the Palestinian Authority.

They also will meet with representatives of Amuta, the Israeli board that advises the JCF on worthwhile projects.

The group plans to visit programs that the JCF has been supporting, in the fields of Jewish-Arab coexistence and religious pluralism, to see how they've been affected.

But just as important, said Ed Cushman, JCF's campaign executive director, mission participants will be able to meet with Israeli citizens whose lives have been touched by the violence.

One evening, the group will split up and be invited to the homes of Jerusalem residents. They also may meet with the parents of soldiers who have either been kidnapped or killed.

It is not determined yet whether the group will visit Gilo, the outer Jerusalem neighborhood that has been involved in almost nightly gunfire exchanges with the nearby Arab village of Beit Jala.

And, Cushman said, while it isn't yet confirmed, they hope to meet with a performing arts group, either theater or dance, to demonstrate that despite it all, life in Israel does go on.

"We want to show the Israelis' ability to overcome obstacles," said Cushman. "To see something showing that Israeli society is going on and persevering."

"We are with them," said Goldman. "We support them, and we — like they — seek a strong, just and enduring peace."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."