Who Wants Me To Contribute?

Tags: Community, Israel Engagement, VCI

By Rhonda Blender

Earlier this week I was messaging with Elana Heideman, Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation. At one point, I blurted out via my keyboard, “Where would we go if IFF wasn’t here? What would we do in its absence?”

As I was thinking of these two questions, I found myself reminded of something that I learned several years ago from a different organization, a dialogue project that promoted discussion between former Israel Defense Force reserve soldiers and the global community. The purpose was to enable conversation between the site volunteers and those who dislike Israel, the IDF or generally just wanted to have a conversation with the volunteers.

One of the founding volunteers, Avi, made a few comments that really stuck with me. He discussed that it’s all about starting conversations that lead to relationships which then create the potential for understanding between people.
Every time I read something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how Diaspora Jews and Israelis relate to each other, their expectations of each other, I think of how important dialogue, interaction and mutual understanding truly is.

In the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate how rare it is to have the opportunity to start, build and sustain those relationships. Where do you go for that in the Jewish world?

I am someone with no group history. I’m 58 years old, female and single. I am educated, well spoken, funny and somewhat informed about the geopolitical situation particularly when it impacts the State of Israel. Sometimes that sense of “outsider-ness” makes me sad. Then somehow - I don’t even remember how - I found the Israel Forever Foundation.

I have never really found my “home” in the Jewish communal world where I live. I suspect that is partly my doing…but not entirely. I don’t have the big bucks for entrance fees to some of the organizational events that I would have enjoyed attending, and I am not necessarily the "target audience" some of these community organizations are looking for. It took me a little time to realize that many of these events are only occasionally for educational purposes but more so are created primarily as ways to raise the dollars that are needed so badly for programs and important causes that need financial support. But because I am not the big donor they want, at the things I’ve attended, I have often felt like an outsider.

It not only makes me sad, it often creates a feeling of isolation when it comes to Israel. And I feel sure I am not the only one who feels this way.

It was a special moment to me when the opportunity was presented to be a “Virtual Citizen” of the State of Israel. Immediately I felt the sense of inclusiveness. I was in. I’ve always been a member of the Jewish people. I've been to Israel twice and when I can save enough, I'll be back again. But now I felt like someone offered me a seat at the table.

Quickly, immediately, was the realization that not only was I encouraged to be here but that my presence and ideas are deemed essential to the Jewish people and State of Israel. At all times, in all ways, the door is open to come inside, respond to others, write a blog, offer a suggestion for a new program and given the opportunity to develop that program.

Through my ongoing interactions, sharing of articles, and promoting their efforts through Facebook and elsewhere, I am looked to as someone who is necessary to engage Jews in both the Jewish People and the State of Israel. To me, this is darn serious business that I am charged with and take to heart.

I will always feel that the Friend-A-Soldier initiative opened the door for me to the State of Israel by providing me the opportunity to talk to real Israelis. Those volunteers were my first friends in Israel.

The Israel Forever Foundation said, “Shalom. We’ve been looking for you!!! Come on in. We are so glad you are here and it’s perfect timing! Let’s talk about what you are interested in…”

I love this Foundation and the opportunity it gives me to participate actively in the Jewish people, form relationships and advance the flourishing of the State of Israel and its relevance to our lives as Jews. THAT is real engagement.

In light of the ongoing reports of the challenges to the Jewish community about assimilation and lack of a sense of affiliation to the State of Israel, it is time the Jewish communal world begins to take notice of The Israel Forever Foundation and help to ensure that they can continue to serve as a place where all Jews - insiders and outsiders, activists and privately connected - can connect in the virtual sphere over our love of Israel and our desire to keep that feeling alive.

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About the Author

Rhonda Blender
Rhonda booked her first trip to Israel, traveling by herself, determined to initiate conversations with Israelis in cafes and shops for a fuller portrait of the country than that provided by news outlets in the States. She left Israel knowing that, “it’s more complex here than anyone in the Diaspora can grasp from their living rooms” and that she was in love with the country and the people. She is trying to make a career change into a role where she can work full time on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

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Tags: Community, Israel Engagement, VCI

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