JFNA Trip Emphasizes Cultural Coexistence

Tags: Federation, Overseas, Young Adults

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Michelle Hirsch of Orange visits residents of The Old Age home in Morocco during the Jewish Federations of North America national young leadership cabinet’s annual study mission in April. | Submitted photo.

by Ed Carroll

Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.

The Jewish Federations of North America’s national young leadership cabinet took its annual study mission April 23-29 in Spain and Morocco – a trip of which the Cleveland area was well represented.

Michelle Hirsch of Orange, Dr. Margaret Richards Frankel and Sarah Zimmerman of Shaker Heights, Justin Kadis of Cleveland, Rachel Heiser of Pepper Pike and Elissa Wuliger of Hunting Valley all attended.

The group visited locations in each country, including the Jewish Community Center of Casablanca, where they listened to students and teachers describe their nearby

Arab-Jewish high school, a Jewish museum, a Muslim orphanage and Ibn Gabirol School in Madrid, a school associated with ORT.

Hirsch, senior vice president of Brunswick Cos. in Fairlawn, said the trip was “incredible” and provided many experiences for the group.

“It was a Federation mission – we learned about Jewish culture in the other countries and learned where our dollars go,” Hirsch said.

The group had briefings with Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita, Moroccan Jewish community president David Toledano, Madrid Jewish community president David Hatchwell, Israeli ambassador to Spain Daniel Kutner and Archbishop of Madrid Carlos Osoro Sierra.

Hirsch said what struck her the most about the trip was its “coexistence” theme.

“We saw how Jews and Muslims and Christians are all living together, specifically in Morocco, where they have no issues with each other,” she said. “They’re Jews living in a Muslim state.”

To illustrate the point about coexistence, Hirsch said the group heard a story about the Moroccan king during World War II, when Nazis came and demanded he turn over the Jews living in the country. Hirsch said, according to the story, the king refused to turn over the Jews and said, “We don’t have Jews here, we have Moroccans.”

Hirsch said that demonstration of coexistence provides insight into the positive relationships Jews and Muslims can have elsewhere.

“We’re all human beings that want the same things for (each other),” she said. “If we can coexist and come together as opposed to (resorting to using) labels, we can all live in peace. I saw it firsthand with my own eyes.”

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