By Rebecca Caspi, Director General, JFNA Israel Office
Originally published in the El Paso Jewish Voice
Whenever he called me from the United States, my uncle asked the same question, “Do you think you’re going to stay in Israel?”
As the decades passed, the question turned more and more into a jest. And now that I’ve lived in Israel for almost forty years, including marrying and raising a family here, it’s pretty clear that I’m here for good. And I mean that last phrase in two senses—not just that I’m here permanently, but that I’m contributing to the vibrancy and vitality of my adopted homeland.
I’ve felt that profound sense of pride ever since I started working for the Jewish community in Israel in 1991—first for the Joint Distribution Committee, and then, since 2007, in my current role as the director of the Israel office for the Jewish Federations of North America.
And I’ve experienced it especially deeply lately, as Israel was under relentless rocket attack from ruthless terrorists for two nerve-wracking weeks in May, and as my staff and I at JFNA worked around the clock to manage Federations’ emergency response and to keep the North American Jewish community up to speed on all the breaking news, up to and including the ceasefire that was finally declared.
It was also crucial to us to inform the Israeli public of the wave of antizionism and antisemitism that crashed upon North American shores in the wake of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Promoting understanding and building awareness about the different challenges faced by American Jews and Israel helps us all to stay connected through thick and thin.
What was also truly fulfilling was the opportunity, just a few days after the ceasefire had been declared, to host the first senior leadership mission to Israel since the pandemic began. Their high-profile trip came on the heels of an emergency fundraising campaign by Federations that raised more than $3 million to aid the victims of the bombings and the first responders. It included meetings with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. It featured a visit with an Israeli woman in Ashkelon whose house was ruined by a direct rocket hit in her living room and a tour of a neighborhood in Lod where violence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs jeopardized long-standing relationships that are now being painstakingly rebuilt. The delegation’s message of love and support was heard loud and clear throughout the length and breadth of the land.
That visit was followed just a week later by one by the Israel Travel Alliance--a JFNA-convened collection of both Jewish and Christian organizations that sponsor trips, many of which are geared to young adults, to the Jewish State. We are working with the Israeli government to ensure that, by the end of the summer, more and more North Americans will have had the opportunity to visit Israel and deepen their own connections to the people and the land of Israel —some may even decide, as I did, to make Israel their home.
So, am I staying? You’d better believe it. I’m staying for good.