Trip to Israel Eye-opening, Life Changing

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Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.

By Joe Cimperman

Recently, a group of civic leaders, through the insight and generosity of Tom and Joanie Adler and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, learned about a most beautiful, historic, spirit-filled, and complicated place called Israel.

This visit was a first for me and for many of the trip’s luminaries. As a native Clevelander raised in a Roman Catholic home, I read and studied as much as possible. But nothing could adequately prepare me for the sacred land where Islam, Christianity and Judaism blossomed, or for the meaning of Israeli entrepreneurialism, national get-up-and-go, or economic cooperation taking place on the Israel-Jordan border. And nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for the million miles of traveled roads and bridges between The Holy Land (Israel) and “The Land” (Cleveland).

In Tel Aviv, whose name means “The Old New Land,” we saw that much of the city’s history is painted in doorways, alley ways, on canvasses large and small. On a graffiti tour, poignant, hilarious, sad, inspiring, joyful and enduring images of Tel Aviv and Israel surrounded us.

One piece that burns in my memory is the illustrated depiction of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It is difficult to shake the haunting image of what was in one moment the closest – and furthest – from peace that this great land has ever experienced.

At A Wider Bridge, the LGBTQI center in Tel Aviv, we learned about the community’s true open-door, open welcome, judgment-of-no-one fashion where youth from all sectors and every faith are supported. We were welcomed as sisters and brothers and talked about the Cleveland – Tel Aviv connections emanating from the International Gay Games hosted in Northeast Ohio a few years ago.


And in Jaffa, the intersections of faith and commerce in one of the oldest ports in the world became a real history lesson. Ancient civilizations came to a head here: Roman, Greek, Judaic and Ottoman empires all have fingerprints on these ancient stones. The market reminded me so much of our West Side Market and how the wall-breaking, bridge-building nature of sharing food is a universal truth.

We traveled on to a magical place called Kiryat Gat, where the Federation supports the growing Ethiopian-Israeli community. I was blown away. These ancient, beautiful, persecuted and resilient people are welcomed every day as they fulfill millennia dreams of return.

The dance, music, food and deep civic- and civil-society building is made possible by generous support from our Jewish community. And to be at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spoke of the Beatitudes was soulful; to share it with this group of diverse interfaith Clevelanders was wondrous.

Our journey continued. Visiting with the Kurdish community, I marveled at the similarities shared with my St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. Here, and in Beit Shean – Valley of Springs, the Federation’s partner city, I noted parallels between this emerging city and Cleveland: gritty, multi-cultural, resilient, searching, pride-without-arrogance, deep civic responsibility and people looking for a way forward.

Throughout the week, we interacted with leaders who work collaboratively, strategically, thoughtfully every day.

At Havat Hashomer, we saw how Samuel, the Israeli Defense Forces base commander and his female lieutenants use charisma and human intelligence to re-integrate youth that have made mistakes and create pathways for them to live lives of meaning and thrive in their second chances. Boys who made mistakes, being given the chance to come back, aided and directed in their journey by young women. This is how societies thrive. Can you imagine this program in Cleveland?

“Jerusalem is a complicated city that needs to care for its diverse residents," noted leaders of the Jerusalem Foundation. No truer words were ever spoken. Here, programs from shared meals to employment and empowerment opportunities bring together residents of all faith communities. And real progress is being made. All of this so Holy Jerusalem, the birth city of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, can thrive.

Front, from left, Brad Schlang, Michael Jacobson, Joe Cimperman, Dave Abbott, Jeff Ramsey; back, Carrie Carpenter, Cheryl Davis, Caryn Candisky and Carrie Rosenfelt.

And at Youth Futures in East Jerusalem, Shadi, the Palestinian director, explained that his views about Israel evolved over the last decade in large part because he became a father. Like fathers everywhere, he wants a better future for his – and all – children. He inspires community engagement through tutoring, mentoring and hosting soccer tournaments – bringing together Palestinian and Jewish participants who come from different places and faiths and neighborhoods, but find common ground on the ballfield. And this is the most sacred part of any Holy City – how to make tomorrow better for our children's children.

I will be meditating on this journey for the rest of my life. This experience will continue to be real for the people with whom I traveled and for the people who have yet to return. Our group carries on its dialogue not only to extend what we learned, but to determine how we can take up the mantel of building more bridges and traveling further on the bridges already built.

But make no mistake, none of us travels to the City of Gold, the Holy Jerusalem. We follow in the words of the great Yiddish poet Yitzhak Yasinowitz:

"One does not travel to Jerusalem. One returns. One ascends the road taken by generations, the path of longing on the way to redemption. One brings rucksacks stuffed with memories to each mountain each hill. In the white cobbled alleyways one offers a blessing for the memories of the past which have been renewed. One does not travel to Jerusalem. One returns."

Let us return as one Cleveland, one Cuyahoga County, one Northeastern Ohio, a diverse and united community – TOGETHER.

Joe Cimperman is president and CEO of Global Cleveland in Cleveland.

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