Hillel was my life, Israel is my love

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Article Reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

By Gary Coleman

I will be returning to Israel later this month with three of my children (my oldest will be staying in the States) and want to take this opportunity to thank you for your friendship and support during these past eight years; almost seven of them as executive director of Cleveland Hillel, months caring for my late wife in the final stages of her disease, followed by seven months at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

Actually I have spent the last 14 years working for the Jewish people in the States. With the help of Zippora, z”l, (of blessed memory) I had the honor of being the founding Hillel director at Binghamton University, spending six years there expanding the opportunities for Jewish students to connect to their Jewish journey, Israel and become ambassadors to the world. When my children became older, we moved to Cleveland and I became Hillel director here in July 2007. I had a wonderful seven years at Cleveland Hillel developing new programs and strengthening the organization. Hillel is a special place with a wonderful mission.

In Cleveland, even though we did not have any relatives, we became connected to a wonderful Jewish community. You welcomed us with open arms and were supportive of us at all times during these last eight years. Words only enable me to say thank you, however there is much more to our relationship.

When I left Cleveland Hillel in May, 2014 I had the beautiful responsibility of caring for my wife, partner, and best friend, Zippora, for the last four months of her life. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2012, yet she continued to live a righteous life until she died on erev Rosh Hashanah 2014 in Israel. In some ways, spending the last four months of her life with her was the most enriching period of my life. For the last seven months, I had the privilege of sending university students and young adults to Israel so they could have professional growth opportunities, become more connected to Israel, and develop a stronger commitment to their Judaism. The support the Jewish Federation of Cleveland gives to these programs and all the other areas of life it is involved with is a game changer for our community, the Jewish people, Israel and the world.

As I transition back home to Israel (I made Aliya in 1981 and it is hard to believe but I have only lived in Israel for four years since 1989), I have been blessed with offers of help from many people; family, friends, along with people who I became connected with through my job search. I have many leads and feel confident that I will have employment by September. I bring to Israel a passion for tikkun olam, making the world a better place.

A core belief of mine is that community should be a place where we celebrate our commonality and respect our differences. This diverse and pluralistic society should be based on our heritage and traditions. Israel is the center of our people. It is in Israel that we can and must, more than anywhere else, celebrate our commonality and respect our differences. As a people we have been at our best when we viewed our diversity as a strength, and I believe it is a key to our survival. G-d willing I will have the opportunity to do my part in making this happen. In that way, we will be the or l’goyim (light unto nations) that is our destiny.

A final thought. I saw something a few weeks ago in the Torah portion Chukat that explains how we should best deal with our shortcomings and failures. After Moshe sinned by hitting the rock and G-d told him that he will not enter the land of Israel, the next verse in the narrative is, “And Moshe sent messengers from Kadesh to the King of Adom … (Numbers; Chapter 20, Verse 14). We do not read about Moshe sulking or bargaining. The narrative tells us he continues on his mission of bringing the children of Israel to Israel. The answer to failure, and we all have failed many times, is to continue to move forward and strive to fulfill our mission and make the world a better place.

I invite you to visit me in Israel or just to stay in touch. My email is .

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