6.18.21 CEO Letter

By Jenn Ross

My personal connection and love for Israel began when I participated as a volunteer through Volunteers for Israel (VFI) prior to my senior year in High School.  Prior to that experience, Israel was merely a concept to me through the education I had received from Hebrew School and synagogue.  When I returned, I had a deep connection not just to the land, but to the people. When I heard about attacks following my visit, I was deeply worried for the people I had met.

My love for Israel has developed over time to include an appreciation for the holiness of the land and its people; cultural appreciation of Israeli food, art, and film (especially through some amazing films presented by the Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival!); amazing expats and Israeli citizens I’ve met; amazement at the innovation of the Israeli people which benefits people worldwide; and more. 

One of my ongoing goals has been to expand our community’s engagement with Israel.  A historical moment which many of you share with pride is that Harrisburg donated more per capita than any community in the U.S. during the Six Day War in 1967.  While we have offered programs about Israel including our CRC Israel Speakers series, Israel Independence programming, PJ Library books and programming, March of the Living, and other cultural and educational opportunities, there hasn’t been much broad financial support from the Greater Harrisburg community for some time.

I was not surprised to see the trends cited in the Pew Research Center overview of their study, Jewish Americans in 2020, which show a decline in engagement with Israel in younger and less religious and unaffiliated American Jews.  How do we build a deeper engagement with Israel? If you aren’t already feeling a deep connection, here are some suggestions:

Visit Israel when permitted as a tourist or through a program.  Felix Thau is a community ambassador for VFI and either of us would love to tell you more about it.  Taglit Birthright Israel is resuming free ten day journeys for Jewish Young Adults, Ages 18-32. If you are interested in future Mission opportunities through JFNA, let me know.

Ensure you are receiving balanced news on what is happening in Israel.  Our national media tends to be biased against Israel and that is very disheartening. Thank you to our local news media who sought information “from the other side” during the recent conflict escalation and several attended our community’s Israel Rally For Peace last month.  Kol Central PA is a resource to learn the facts so please subscribe and learn more each week at jewishharrisburg.org/emails.  Our colleagues at the JCRC in Maryland have fantastic resources for teens which are also helpful for adults: https://www.jcouncil.org/teenIsraelResources.

Attend local and virtual programming about Israel, particularly programs hosted by Federations, JCCs, and Jewish Community Relations Councils.  We promote many of these events in Kol Central PA and in our Friday Federation events email.  Thank you again to the individuals who were featured in the last edition of Community Review who coordinated the Israel Rally For Peace last month. It was an honor working together with you, and it was wonderful seeing the approximately 150 members of our community who attended.

In the meantime, the people of Israel are still suffering from the recent attacks. You can help financially:

1. Make a secure donation through our national association JFNA which will be used for emergency grants to victims and their families, psychological counseling for those affected, and support for first responders at www.jewishharrisburg.org/standing-with-israel.

2. Burton Morris and Marian Frankston Morris are raising funds for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, which offers educational, cultural, recreational, and social services programs and facilities that provide hope, purpose, and life-changing support for the soldiers who protect Israel and Jews worldwide.  You can support them by making a check payable to Friends of Israeli Defense Forces and mail it to Burton Morris, P.O. Box 12110, Harrisburg, PA 17108.

I would love to hear about your connection to Israel. You can reach me at 717-236-9555 x3104 or j.ross@jewishfedhbg.org.