Federation Eyes Long Lasting Partnership with Kibbutz Kissufim

Tags: Federation, Israel, Overseas

  • Share This Story

A gift from Kibbutz Kissufim to the Cleveland Jewish community to mark the start of the partnership between the two communities. Submitted photo


Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

On Oct. 6, 2023, Kibbutz Kissufim in Israel was an agricultural community home to 318 residents full of dreams. But located just 0.3 miles from the Gaza border, it was one of the communities attacked when Hamas invaded on Oct. 7, 2023.

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland has partnered with the kibbutz to help as the community grapples with the aftermath of those attacks that left 18 of their members dead and one, Shlomo Mantzur, still held as a hostage of Hamas in Gaza. With 25 homes burned, destroyed or severely damaged, the residents are among those internally displaced from the attacks and staying in hotels until the kibbutzim can be rebuilt and secured.

“When Cleveland enters a partnership, we’re going to be here not just for today, tomorrow, but the long term,” Jared Miller, chair of the Kibbutz Kissufim partnership, told the Cleveland Jewish News on March 6.

For 28 years, the Federation has had a partnership with Beit Shean and the Valley of Springs in northern Israel. And while The Jewish Agency for Israel, which facilitated the Kissufim partnership, only asked for a three-year commitment, the Federation expects this to be just the beginning.

Miller traveled to Israel in January with Mark Holz, chair of the Federation’s overseas connections committee; Ilanit Gerblich Kalir, Federation’s assistant vice president of external affairs and international operations; and Oren Baratz, Federation’s senior vice president of external affairs, to meet with the Kissufim leadership and see what the needs are.

“They surprised us with this beautiful gift,” Miller, a resident of Moreland Hills who attends services at Solon Chabad, said. “It was an art piece that is a symbol for the beginning of a partnership. So, it’s a flower blooming from the ashes of other kibbutz from Oct. 7 through shattered glass which is symbolizing how something new can grow from that destruction.”

Members of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s and Kibbutz Kissufim’s leadership meeting in January as the partnership between the two communities began. Jared Miller, a Moreland Hills resident and chair of the Kibbutz Kissufim partnership, is third from the right. Submitted photo

He shared the stories of several of the Kibbutz’s residents, including Jina Smiatich, who dreamed of a shared maternity ward between Kissufim and Khan Yunis in Gaza, but was killed on Oct. 7. Her grandson, an Israel Defense Forces reservist, now protects the kibbutz.

Reuven Heinik, who took care of the cows on the kibbutz, was not killed by Hamas on Oct. 7, but rather two days later when he returned to feed the cows. Mantzur turned 86 on March 7 and missed celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary with his wife, Mazal, on March 1 as he is still held hostage in Gaza.

“He lived in Kissufim for most of his adult life,” Miller said of Mantzur. “He managed the kibbutz chicken coop for many years. He loved to work in his garden. He had a huge heart. And he was a carpenter as well, and he loved making things for his grandchildren and others in the community.”

Holz told the CJN on March 11 that the Cleveland community immediately stepped up, as it has done in the past, calling the Federation to look for ways to help following Oct. 7.

“It just speaks to the strength of the Cleveland community and the strength of a long history of the overseas work that Federation does that led to that,” Holz, a resident of Beachwood who attends services at Solon Chabad, said. “It’s in our DNA to want to help during times like this.”

While The Jewish Agency’s model of community partnerships is not new to the Federation, it is new to many of the southern kibbutzim where people are “pioneers” and not used to asking or being offered help, he said. But, on a recent leadership trip to Israel, Holz said the Kissufim manager came along with them to a dinner with over 150 people in Beit Shean and was “blown away.”

“She made a comment like, ‘You guys told us all of this, but now I see it for myself. I see the potential of the partnership and I hope one day we’re having a celebration like this one in Kissufim,’” Holz said.

While the relationships between Kissufim and Cleveland are still developing and needs are still being assessed, the partnership between the two communities is expected to grow and continue for the longterm.

“We are at the start of a historic chapter in Cleveland’s Jewish Federation’s relationship with Israel, in terms of I really do feel like a pioneer in some sense that we’re beginning this new partnership no different than the people whose shoulders’ Jared and I stand on (who) started the partnership in Beit Shean 28-plus years ago,” Holz said. “And I feel that immense pride and immense responsibility that this partnership is lasting and impactful and valuable to all those who are going to participate in it.”

Learn More: Federation, Israel, Overseas