Travel Blog: 2022 Adler Civic Leaders Mission to Israel

Tags: Israel, Federation, Overseas, Advocacy

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Thirty-two esteemed Cleveland civic leaders recently participated in the Adler Civic Leaders Israel Mission. This biennial mission, launched by Thomas and Joann Adler, was established through an endowment at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. The purpose is to expose leadership from across Cleveland to Israel’s complexities, and its innovative approaches to economic and community development, education and support of at-risk and disadvantaged populations. The mission also creates opportunities for partnership with fellow travelers and Israeli counterparts.

Read about their experience below.

April 4, 2022

by Sondra Miller, President & CEO, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

I didn't realize it at the time, but a casual breakfast conversation I had with Kevin Martin of Ideastream and Dan Cohn of Mount Sinai Health Care Foundation set the framework for my day ahead, our first full day together on the incredible Tom and Joanie Adler Civic Mission Trip to Israel. Before our first cup of coffee we learned about Kevin's intentional routine to wake up very early in the morning.

"Why would you get up that early on purpose, Kevin," I asked with sincerity.

Like a true journalist, he revealed that when he is searching for answers, he often realizes in the early morning hours that he first needs to make sure he is asking the right questions. This, I now realize, is the reason I am here. This experience is not going to be about getting all the answers, as I had thought upon arrival; the experience is going to teach me how to ask bigger, smarter, more compassionate questions.

Our first official stop of our trip was to the Jewish Agency for Israel's Absorption Center in Kiryat Gat. We learned about Operation Moses and Operation Solomon and heard harrowing stories of Ethiopians immigrating to Israel. Since 1982, the Center has provided housing, education, job skills training and more to support the Ethiopian immigrant community. We were invited to participate in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ritual.

On the bus ride to our afternoon stop, we were encouraged to ask the "toughest of tough questions." Israel has many complexities, we heard, and for every question we asked, we should expect to get three answers. A voice from the back of the bus retorted, "That's OK, I'll probably have three more questions!" I knew in that moment that I would love this experience and the special group of people I get to share it with.

After lunch, we rode to to the Sederot Lookout, about two miles from the Gaza Strip. Along the way, we heard that all schools serve a dual purpose as air-raid shelters, that all new apartments are built with shelters and that residents contemplate the locations of shelters when they decide which path to walk to school or work. We heard that many people are afraid to leave their house and that the trauma they experience manifests in many ways, including increased diabetes, increased miscarriages and even bed wetting at older-than-typical ages. Almost every home in the neighborhood has been hit by a rocket at least once in the last 20 years, if not twice or three times.

Working to reduce the psychological impact of this violence on victims of terror who live in Sederot – and on the first responders providing care there – is the Israel Trauma Coalition. We had the privilege of hearing from some of the professionals doing this work and exploring their animal-assisted therapy facility. There are natural parallels between their work and the work of my agency, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, which made this a particularly resonant experience for me.

An hour bus ride back to Tel Aviv created the space for our group to ask bigger, smarter questions and dig deeper into the complexities of the region. I am grateful that my fellow participants did not hold back. Their questions created a richer learning experience for me.

I am also grateful to Tom and Joanie Adler for creating the vision for this program and allowing us to come together for this shared experience. It is an honor to travel alongside them and hear why this trip is meaningful to them too.

Tomorrow, on our second day, I won't be setting my alarm as early as Kevin, but I will be thinking about whether I'm asking all the right questions.

April 5, 2022

by Susan Borison, Vice Chair, Jewish Federation of Cleveland's Community Relations Committee 

I can’t ever calculate what time it is in the United States. I can’t remember the day of the week or whether the Adler Mission was one day or a month. But one thing I can do—I can identify the helpers.

It started from the moment I boarded the plane in Cleveland. (One Covid test down, two more to go.) I looked up from my seat and saw Raymond Bobgan holding up the line getting on the plane. People were leering at him and mumbling under their breath to keep moving. But I saw Raymond helping two people who were struggling with their luggage. Raymond quietly helped each one store their luggage in the overhead cabin. Suddenly Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers” popped into my head.

This mission was all about the helpers. Every day we heard from people who devote their lives to the pursuit of peace. Mohammad Darawshe from Givat Haviva works toward a shared society with both Jews and Muslims. His vision, his tenacity, his resilience, and mostly his optimism inspired me to believe that with the right helpers, anything is possible.

There were others who work to lift people who might otherwise be left behind. We visited the IDF army base, Havat HaShomer. On this base, female IDF soldiers train young adult men who would not qualify for army service. They are taught new approaches to overcome their challenges; they are show new pathways toward opportunity and success. These helpers create second chances.

Every step of our trip we encountered people who came with open hearts. Tuesday night we ate dinner with members of our partner city Beit Shean. I sat next to Lital Miller who works for Youth Futures. I felt an immediate bond with Lital, but I’m certain anyone sitting next to her would have felt the same way. (Sorry again Seven.) When Lital heard that many had Covid, she reached out to ask if I had someone to take care of me. She gave me her phone number. Lital, and a list of others too long to remember, turn strangers into friends.

Even when every day is overflowing with helpers, some people still stand out. Likely, each of us would have a different list. But here’s mine.


The Humble Helpers
Dorit Natan-Lavy Debbie Klein

General Mansour Mohammad Darawshe

The Covid Troopers
The Dan Boutique Residents

The Visionaries
Tom and Joanie Adler

The Changemakers
Adler Mission 2022

We are told in the Bible that we are all created in the image of God. After this week together, the evidence is everywhere. And for that, I feel gratitude and hope.

April 6, 2022

by Jazmin Long, CEO, Birthing Beautiful Communities

Meeting our Family in Beit Shean

When I woke up this morning, I was excited for the day ahead of me. I knew that we’d explore Northern Israel and see sights that were significant to the Christian community. As a Christian, who’s been struggling with her faith, I knew that today would be religiously substantial. However, I do not think we were prepared for what we experienced today. It’s important to note that we had one of the most knowledgeable and incredible tour guides, Abraham (Abe). His dedication to his craft led to a transformational experience for every person on this trip.

On this day, I marveled as we made our scenic drive with views of the lake and several biblical and historical sites. We began our day by going to the Mount of Beatitudes, the spot where Jesus is believed to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount. Overlooking the shore of the Sea of Galilee, there was not a dry eye in our group as we sat upon rocks in a circle and listened to Abraham read passages from the Sermon on the Mount to our group. It was a powerful experience that I am sure none of us will ever be able to forget.

After Abe had us all emotional, he let us walk over to the Mount of Beatitudes Church. Still overcome with emotion, many of my colleagues and I could do nothing more than marvel at its beauty and pray. But, there was still so much to admire for those who aren't religious, looking at its unique atmosphere and incredible architecture.

We’ve been here for about four days, and at this point, we have become a little Adler Mission family; this becomes important shortly. Our next stop was Capernaum, which is believed to be the adult hometown of Jesus and where he performed many miracles. When we arrived, the first thing we did was head down to the Sea of Galilee. Again, this is where our family becomes important. There’s no one who wouldn’t have wanted to put a hand or foot in that water. However, it was rocky and steep.

Along with some others, I was very nervous to get on the rocks and get into the Sea. However, we had some incredible gentlemen on this trip who ensured that everyone could have this experience. So again, this was just an incredibly spiritual experience. Additionally, when Dan C. and Kevin helped me get in the water and Beth took some photos, I felt overwhelming love and support.

We were also able to take a group photo! I don’t know how I got so lucky to be sitting next to Tom and Joanie, but here we are. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips, and I couldn’t have done this with a better group of people. Before leaving Cleveland, a consistent theme from my colleagues was that you go on this trip and come home with friends for a lifetime. This is certainly how I feel. These guys are now my brothers and sisters, and we’re all stuck with each other!

This blog is titled “Our Family in Beit Shean,” but I haven’t talked about Beit Shean! LOL, this speaks to how much we had on our schedule every day. Following these incredible experiences, we began driving into town to meet individuals doing the work in Beit Shean. It was a full-circle moment for me to be in Beit Shean. I remember when my former boss, Joe Cimperman, came back from his Adler Mission trip and was determined to have Beit Shean/Valley of Springs declared a Sister City. I understood the importance of Sister City relationships, but I didn’t realize that Cleveland had been collaborating with Beit Shean for more than 25 years!

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland has been working closely with residents and civic leaders in Beit Shean/Valley of Springs to address social and cultural issues. We split into two groups on this day, one that looked at youth opportunities and one that explored economic development. I chose to attend the economic development group. We had the privilege of hearing from four members of the organization, Bridge to the Future (BTF). This group of individuals has so much hope for the future of their city.

Any time we were in front of a group of Israelis, someone in our group would ask about their hopes for the future. During this session, the gentleman on the panel offered some of the kindest words we had heard thus far. He talked about how the night before, when we went to dinner, he was amazed by Tony Sias’ spirit and soul. Hope to him looks like Tony’s big heart and soul. That was such a special remark because it’s true! Tony, “paw paw,” was such a light to everyone on this trip, and even our colleagues were able to see that. My heart was full as they talked about their work and lives.

We began a walk to their city center shopping mall following the panel. As we listened to our guides explain where we were, I heard many of my Cleveland colleagues talk about how we could have been at Tower City, South Gate, or even Severance. In what used to be the city’s core shopping mall, we found stores closed and folks fighting to restore its original glory. A mall was built on the outskirts of town a few years ago, and many stores have migrated there. We were lucky to meet with a shop owner who’s been pushing the city to support the Center and help them bring in more business. We helped brainstorm some ideas to help them make the center the vibrant place it used to be. However, Jeff and Joy may need to go back and do some planning work with them.

Oh, it didn’t stop there. Following the panel and walking tour of the Center, we went to the library. Here, we had the opportunity to hear from four young adults about the life-changing experiences they’ve had volunteering with their library. This library is a safe haven and place of comfort for the youth. They spoke about their insecurities and how they have become a family. When they talked about their hopes for the future, they just wanted to make something out of their lives. It’s incredible; the one universal thing is that our youth just want a prosperous future and opportunities. Someone from our group mentioned Felton Thomas, and our lead panelist just LIT up! Felton attended the Adler Mission previously and has been supportive of the library, of course! We also found out that this incredible young woman would be spending the year in Cleveland, as she was recently accepted into a very competitive fellowship. We all look forward to welcoming her to our home.

Following our very long day, we made our way back to the Kibbutz “hotel” we were staying. It was a VERY, VERY long day. However, this group kept pushing through. We returned to the cabins, sat on a few people’s porches, and had some libations before dinner. After we had some time to decompress and talk about the day we had just experienced, we got dressed and headed to dinner.

This dinner was special because we were invited to an Iftar dinner with General Mansour. An Iftar dinner is the meal that Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast with. Throughout the trip, Oren Baratz kept emphasizing that Generals/Commanders/Individuals with an up-close view of war understood the need for peace in a way that others could not grasp. General Mansour, a former Jordanian General, has been working with the Amman Center for Peace and Development to ensure a better relationship between Jordan, Israel, and the rest of the Middle East. His words were poignant and clear. He wants, in his lifetime, to see peace between Jordan and Israel, and he’s going to do everything in his power to continue fostering the relationship between the two.

Today was such a powerful day. If you ask any of my travel friends what I hate about a trip, it’s being overprogrammed, and clearly, we were programmed to the MAX. However, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We spent our morning having a supremely spiritual experience, the afternoon learning about our Sister City of Beit Shean, and our evening learning from a Jordanian General. When we got back, I realized that my Apple watch rings weren’t all closed, so I went out for a walk, where I found Jeff, Judge Polster, and Gregg sitting outside talking, and I joined them. Judge Polster and Gregg are an absolute wealth of knowledge about Jewish history. They gave us context that would be very important for our next day’s conversation.

It was my supreme honor to have been invited on this trip. I truly had no idea what to expect, but I couldn’t have imagined how special it would be in my wildest dreams. The love and compassion shown by and to each of my colleagues is something that I will never forget. My faith has been strengthened, my love for my Blackness has been strengthened, and my understanding of the Jewish community has been strengthened. I am not the same, and one truly can’t be the same after all of the experiences we have had this week.

April 7, 2022

by Grace Gallucci, Executive Director & CEO, NOACA

Bringing together peoples from the periphery. One collective day in two parts.

Part 1: The Jordan River

a) Observations from the tour bus: Rural. Agriculture. Natural beauty. Quiet. Far away. Slow Drive. Land. Sky. Water. Kibbutz fields. Date farms. Palm trees. Lost. Found. Earth. Peace. Hope. Love. Forward.

b) Observations on the ground: Fence. Barbed wire. Jordanian border. Monitored. No passage. Military guards. General Mansour. Israeli counterpart. History. East West Gateway. Bridge over the Jordan River. Cooperation. Zone. Trade. Work. Workers. Economic development. Connecting Israel and Jordan. Connecting Europe and the Middle East. Peace. Hope. Love. Forward.

Part 2: Jerusalem

Observations from the community: The Jewish Agency. Understanding. Helping. Social work. Programs. At risk youth. Palestinians. Mentors. Families. Comprehensive services. Schools. Check points. The territories. Lost time. Frustration. Inequality. Not belonging. Not home. On the fringe. Must change. For the children. Through the children. Peace. Hope. Love. Forward.

Observations as a visitor: Ancient. History. Stories. Walls. Beauty. Romanesque. Transitions. Old City. New City. Lunch with a view. With friends. Panorama. Tranquility. Four corners. Sense of belonging. Sense of separation. At the same time. Religions. Judaism. Christianity. Islam. Houses of worship. Temples. Churches. Mosques. Peoples. Jews. Christians. Muslims. Secular. Sustenance. Open air markets. Prayer. The West Wall. Tomb of Jesus. Physical place. Symbolic space. Jesus died. Jesus rose from the dead. Profoundness. Peace. Hope. Love. Forward.

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