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Interfaith Missions to Israel

22 Jun

For the past 4 years, The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee has invested in relationships with the Christian community through community programming and interfaith missions to Israel. This year, we had the opportunity to travel to Israel with another Federation community from the Heart of New Jersey. This unique trip consisted of clergy and leadership from Jewish, Presbyterian, Reform Church, Baptists and Episcopal communities. To read about this trip, click on this article

Below are quotes from two local leaders who traveled to Israel with the Jewish Federation on the mission highlighted in the article:

“Beyond the blessing of biblical locations and narratives coming alive in sight and context, the interfaith trip was a marvelous opportunity to explore deeper conversations and questions (even tough ones) about Judaism and Christianity’s heritage.  The trip also opened my eyes to the greater reality of everyday life in Israel – what it is and isn’t.  How refreshing to see and hear stories of hope and understanding – appreciating the effort to recognize and respect our common human dignity, regardless of background, and the desire we all have to make a better life for future generations.  I learned a lot and am forever grateful for such an educational and inspirational trip.”     – Rev. Michael Todd, Church of the Holy Spirit, Osprey, Florida



“Israel faces many complex challenges. So often in American mainstream media and around the world, Israel is painted in a negative light, despite the fact that they are daily confronted by an enemy that seeks to destroy their existence. Traveling there and getting to see and hear first-hand about these challenges and the strides Israel is trying to make, was such an affirmation of this bias in media. Truth matters – whether that’s here in America or there in Israel. We need to see both sides of the story and understand that what Israel is facing is complicated. One of the purposes of this trip was for us to see for ourselves what is taking place, to dispel the misconceptions we so often see.  I believe the trip accomplished this.” – Dixie Cline, Director of Development, CareNet Manasota, Bradenton, Florida


Reflections on “Inside America’s Auschwitz”

24 Apr

By Elyse Warren

In the Smithsonian article, “Inside America’s Auschwitz,” Jared Keller wrestles with the shadows of America’s riddled past with racism after a visit to Louisiana’s Whitney Plantation Slavery Museum. The museum, which opened in December of 2014, marks the first museum in the nation to be recognized as a slave museum. The museum pays homage and bears witness to the history of slavery and crimes against humanity committed against the slaves who were forced into labor at the former indigo, sugar, and cotton plantation.


The memorialization and pedagogical design of the tours conducted at the museum break from the confines of the conventional history lesson given in the classroom or at other plantations. The focus is placed on providing the visitor the opportunity to understand the slave experience and remove, as Keller notes, the veil of the Gone With The Wind view of America’s Southern plantations. The experience disillusions the visitor from the romanticism associated with the grandeur of the planation homes and provides a narrative that can not only educate, but act as a change agent within the visitor when they conclude their experience.


This thoughtful design mirrors the experience of visiting sites of atrocities committed during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, specifically the renowned pedagogy and reconciliation constructed through Germany and Poland’s memorialization of the Holocaust. Thanks to the generous support of the Jewish Federation and Dr. Barry and Mrs. Anne Stein, I participated in the March of the Living (MOL) in 2011 with five other high school students from Sarasota and witnessed the concentration camps in Poland and traveled to Israel. Reflecting on the experience, I can still vividly remember the sensory details of visiting the concentration camps and ghettos in Poland. The stench of the rotting wood of the barracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the scraped walls of the cattle car at the Lodz Ghetto, and the cold, sterile, space of the gas chambers at Majdonek that were stained with an effervescent turquoise blue from the Zyklon B chemicals. All the details wove together the prisoner experience in the concentration camps into the fabric of Holocaust memorialization and memory.


In particular, visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps manifested a poignant experience of walking through endless barracks and fields which evoked a painful feeling of absence. The absence was augmented by comfort and support from peers and the humbling ability to walk through the space with survivors to learn from their testimony. However, the experience would not have been whole without the strong use of narrative and contextualization provided in the education by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum Center and the staff we had on the MOL. To better understand the role of education and how a nation tries to reconcile with a fraught past, I took my passion from the MOL trip and visited Poland again during a study abroad program in college the following year. I took the experience of the MOL trip and applied it to my studies of how Germany and Poland reconcile the memory of the Holocaust through education and memorialization. Staying in Oswiecim, where Auschwitz-Birkenau is located, helped me understand more fully the role pedagogy in education, as Keller commented, helps to build understanding and reconciliation with the past to ensure that “never again” reins absolute.


Paralleling Keller’s experience at the slavery museum, I felt a call to action when I left Poland after the March of the Living and again when I studied abroad. It was a discovery in terms of sense of self, belonging, and meaning not only to Judaism, but to Israel and preserving the history for the next generation to bear witness. Keller noticed the same call expressed in a tour group of young African American students that took to heart the moving mission of the museum. The article by Keller is his call to recognize and draw parallels to how America may learn valuable lessons from Germany, Poland, or even Rwanda in reckoning with the past centuries late.


While the two atrocities mentioned have different context and history, they both speak to the call for “never again.” We serve as stewards to the next generation, as the phrase L’dor Vador emphasizes. Echoing a note left at the slave museum, fostering and encouraging the movement to provide enriching educational experiences, whether through the March of the Living or a slave museum, will help ensure that the future generation knows and will not forget the past.


To learn more about the March of the Living program, click HERE.


100 Days of Impact: Investing

30 Sep

Bob Malkin Young Ambassadors

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee is committed to INVESTING donor dollars in Israel experiences for teens, such as Young Ambassadors and March of the Living. Following the logic of the many studies that show that Birthright participants are 42% more likely to feel connected to Israel than those who don’t go on a mission OR that they are 45% more likely to marry someone Jewish than a nonparticipant, our leadership feels that offering high school students an Israel experience will create a deeper attachment to Israel and to their own Jewish identity. High school is an extremely formative period when more complex thinking, including political and religious ideology, is seriously examined and when dating habits are formed.

In 2014, our Federation sent its largest delegation to date on the March of the Living Mission. As well, we had more than 10 students participate on other mission experiences through Young Ambassadors and the Send a Kid to Israel Program. For the first time, our Federation provided scholarships for two high school students to spend a semester in Israel through the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program.

March of the Living

By INVESTING in our teens, the future of our Jewish community, we work to ensure the continuity of our Jewish people and a long-term attachment to Israel. The best way to demonstrate the impact these trips have on our teens is to hear from them directly…

>> The Young Ambassadors trip has had a positive impact on participants and has encouraged them to become more involved in advocating for Israel and getting more in touch with their Judaism. If it wasn’t for the Bob Malkin Young Ambassador Teen Leadership Program, local teens’ lives may have gone very different ways and they may not have been as involved Jewishly as they are today.
Samara Robbins (Young Ambassador ’12)

>> This [March of the Living] trip has increased my faith in Judaism so much that I now view it as something so fundamental, it is inseparable from myself. Being able to share this experience through two very different countries with so many other Jews proved to me Judaism is alive and strong and that the Nazis did not win. This trip made me so thankful for all of the fundamental blessings that I have in my life. However, this is a March which is not yet complete. I have learned that we need to be upstanders to make sure that the Holocaust never happens again.
Brandon Ikeman (March of the Living ’13)

>> Because of this journey, I made the decision to have my Bat Mitzvah 5 years late. Being in the holiest place on the planet made me realize what Judaism truly means and I really connected to my inner Jew. Going to the Western Wall and praying in the presence of a divine spirit was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
Erica Brown (Young Ambassador ’14)


100 Days of Impact from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee

100 Days of Impact

100 Days of Impact started on September 22 and will run through the end of 2014. Each week we will demonstrate the the collaborative impact that we and our donors make locally and globally.


You are the Jewish community. This is your Federation. Together, we do extraordinary things!

Young Ambassadors Update: Day 13

24 Jun

Today was a sad, but interesting and fun day. We did a few things such as planting a tree, visiting the Old City of Jerusalem, and some last minute market buying.

The highlight of the day was beginning. The group woke up around 7:30 in the morning and we soon left to start our day at Yad Vashem. For those who are unaware, this is the Holocaust museum located in Jerusalem. Our tour was around 4 hours long and consisted of a 45 minute video of a holocaust survivor and then we walked through the exhibits of the museum speaking about each room in detail. Not only was the information interesting, but the building itself was amazing. The architecture put into the building was beautiful and meant to instill emotion into the visitors’ hearts.

The part that impacted me the most in the museum was the children’s memorial center. As we walked in, it got dark and everything around us was enlarged. It was as if we were truly children again. The door was 4 times our height and everything appeared scary. I couldn’t help but think that how I was feeling was similar to how a young child in the Holocaust may have felt at their arrival to a concentration camp. The amazing thing about the architecture is that the building was build this way purposely. Not only was the information inside the museum valuable, but simply going to the building and just walking through was an emotional experience due to how it was set up. The museum in my opinion is one of the most important things I believe the Young Ambassadors have done on this trip. I feel honored to say that I am fortunate enough to have made it to Israel, and will forever mourn for the children of the Holocaust who had this right stripped from them.

Jared D. is a participant on the Bob Malkin Young Ambassadors Teen Leadership Program.


Young Ambassadors Update: Day 12

24 Jun

Waking up at 4AM is rarely something to brag about. In fact, the facial expressions of everyone on the bus this morning seemed to indicate that they agreed completely with my desire to stay in bed. However, despite our grogginess, we all wanted to see the sunrise atop Masada, and our 30 minute bus ride and 300 foot hike gave us just that.

Masada, while beautiful, bears a great variety of intimidating inclines and uneven stairs leading to the top. Now about 4:30AM, we were motivated solely by the streaks of pink already making their way up the mountain.
After sunrise, the Israeli heat quickly took over, but we spent our morning reading scripts as we individually portrayed people like King Herod and his Queen as we walked through their ancient palace.

At around 7AM, we were faced with a 1,000 foot descent, which took about 45 minutes. Climbing down took far longer then coming up did. Once we reached the bottom, we ate breakfast at the Masada guest hotel. We then arrived at a hiking park, and swam in an oasis. While an oasis sounds glamorous, it’s really just a small pond of water in the middle of the desert.

After hiking back from the oasis, we got back onto the bus and went to visit the Ahava factory where we learned about the Dead Sea and the cosmetics that the factory produces and how they benefit your skin. Then we went to the sea and we all put mud all over us and then went into the sea to wash it off and float around. The water was really cool to float in but we didn’t stay in long because the water burns. After lunch we went back to the hotel to shower and rest for a few hours until dinner. After dinner we had a really amazing speaker named Neil Lazarus who spoke to us about current events in Israel. He was very entertaining and we all enjoyed his perspective. We all then promptly went to bed due to our exhaustion from waking up so early that morning. Although it was hard to start off the day, in the end it was worth it.

Julie L. and Maia Z. are participants on the Bob Malkin Young Ambassadors Teen Leadership Program.


Young Ambassadors Update: Day 11

23 Jun

We started our day like many others: wake up at 7, pack, eat breakfast. However, today was very different. I ate breakfast and packed my bag with extreme haste due to the fact that we were going to ride camels later that day. I had been waiting for this day the entire trip and was over the moon that it had finally arrived.

After a quick breakfast we boarded the bus and headed to the City of David.
Once there, we were led into a theatre to view a short film about what the City of David was. After sitting through a brief history lesson, we began our journey through the water-filled underground tunnels. For me this was very difficult due to my slight fear of very small, tight spaces that also happen to be in the dark. As we entered the tunnel, the water rose to just above my knee an we began our trek to the light at the end. Not only was the water freezing, but the tunnel was completely dark. We all were given small flashlights but that didn’t make much of a difference. After walking for a little while, the water fell to the middle of my shin and remained that way until the end. As we were walking, the group behind us began to sing strange harmonies that sounded familiar but only made the experience in the tunnel slightly more eerie. As we reached the end, the water rose and I climbed my way out of the tunnel.

After the tunnel, we walked back to the main city and had an ice cream break. I had my second Magnum bar of the trip and it was incredible. Once we had all finished our frozen treats, we boarded the bus and headed to an archaeological digging site. When we arrived there we were led into a large greenhouse looking place and were told to sit down. We sat for about 20-25 minutes and learned a brief history/introduction to what we were sifting for. We paired up with a buddy and began sifting through buckets of dirt from Temple Mount. Julie and I found many pieces of pottery and even some burnt bone! Jared and Adam actually found a really interesting coin and an ancient nail. After sifting for a solid 30 minutes, we went over to a glass case that showcased some of the more impressive finds which were sorted into categories based on what time period they were from. After finishing up sifting, we sat around and ate lunch…FALAFEL! It was delicious. After finishing up lunch, we boarded the bus and headed to the desert: it was camel time.

Once we reached the Bedouin settlement, we were immediately greeted by dozens of camels. I was so excited I screamed. Our tour guide informed us that we should work on our camel impressions because we were going to try and see whose was best. After walking into the settlement and sitting down for 15 ish minutes, we were informed of the safety rules and then guided to the camels. Maia and I ran over to the camels and picked out a dark brown camel. I got on the back and Maia got on the front. The camel stood up and I could not stop smiling. Maia and I decided to name our camel. After much deliberation we decided on Candice Habib Ziletzger (we combined last names). Along with Candice, the other camels (also names by the Young Ambassadors) were Sven, Shirley and Curtisa. After riding the camels for 25 minutes we were guided back to the settlement and dismounted the camels. Maia and I had to say goodbye to our baby Candice, but not before we took a billion pictures with her. Amber then told us to put everything at a table and then lead us to an empty space. She then instructed us to get in a line and put our hands onto the shoulders of the person in front of us and walk; but here’s the catch…our eyes had to be closed. As we walked around only being lead by the sound of Amber’s voice, we were faced with many problems. I kept stepping in Jared’s feet, Julie kept letting go of Sam’s shoulders, and then there was the small problem of constantly tripping over giant rocks in your way. After reaching our destination, the desert, we were told to take off our watches and walk to an area where we would be alone and to come back in 10 minutes. I walked to a small hill and took a seat. I found two flint stones and decided to keep them. I then began digging around in the sand for things and found nothing. After what felt like five seconds, Amber began singing this beautiful tune that was the signal to come back (I didn’t realize that and stayed on my little hill for another 2 minutes). After walking back to the settlement the same way we had walked before (hands on shoulders and eyes closed) we were led into a tent. In the tent we were served tea and coffee, out of respect and curiosity I drank them both. The coffee was gross and the tea was really sweet. A man dressed in robes and a head covering walked in. He told us his name was Muhammad and he began to tell us about the Bedouin culture. Some fun facts for you: Muhammad has 52 camels, over 60 sheep, 3 wives, and 23 children. After speaking a little bit longer, we took a picture with him and then we went onto dinner. We were served dinner on a large plater. It was couscous with a vegetable stew and chicken wings and meatballs. It was DELICIOUS. After stuffing our faces, we boarded the bus, said goodbye to the camels and went to our hotel. Once we arrived at the hotel and got into our rooms, we were given a curfew of 9 due to our 4
a.m. Wake up call. The next morning was time for Masada.

Jamie M. is a participant on the 2014 Bob Malkin Young Ambassadors Teen Leadership Program.


Young Ambassadors Update: Day 10

22 Jun

Today we were allowed to sleep in and get breakfast in our pajamas since it was Shabbat. After hanging out at the hotel and having lunch, we walked to the Israel museum where we saw the Dead Sea Scrolls and other sculptures outside, including a bamboo structure that we could climb on. After walking around outside, we went into the inside of the museum where we were able to walk around and see some exhibits; my favorites were the contemporary and impressionist exhibitions. As soon as we were done in the museum, we walked to the Knesset where Boaz told us a little bit about the history of the government of Israel and how it works. We then went and sat in the rose garden of the Knesset and shared our experiences of the previous night at the wall and then went back to the hotel for dinner. After dinner we had a quick havdallah service outside of the hotel; I held the spices, Jamie and Jared tried to keep the candle lit, Boaz held the wine, and Amber played her guitar. After, we had free time on Ben Yehuda street. The whole block was filled with shops, vendors, and street performers. Jamie and I split an amazing falafel from Moshiko. I can’t wait to ride a camel tomorrow!

Maia Z. is a participant on the Bob Malkin Young Ambassadors Teen Leadership Program.