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Betsy Nelson: Making connections in Israel

In May, I had the great privilege of participating in the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation’s weeklong Israel Mission. What a life-enhancing experience it was!

For many years the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has led prominent Marylanders on an intense educational and experiential orientation of the State of Israel. The goal has been to provide a rare opportunity to witness firsthand how individuals have overcome adversity and thrived with dignity in such a complicated region of the world.

These trips present Israel to participants so that they can better understand and interpret the complex, ever-changing realities of the Middle East.

In addition to visiting religious and historical sites, participants meet major Israeli political and community representatives, all reflecting the diversity of the region. The itinerary often includes social service agencies which are of particular interest to many of those who make this trip.

Trips’ multiple purposes

Why does the Weinberg Foundation do this? There are several reasons, according to Foundation President Rachel Monroe.

“In a broad sense,” Monroe says, “the foundation is inevitably helping the State of Israel and the Jewish community improve its relations with Maryland leaders in a variety of roles. Remember that these leaders are almost entirely non-Jewish and have in almost every instance never been to Israel or have not been there for many years.”

Monroe says the trips also highlight some of the tangible, direct connections between Maryland and Israel.

“Last year alone,” she explains, “the Weinberg Foundation distributed approximately $18 million in grants to Israel. Bringing leaders from the state of Maryland to Israel affords the foundation the opportunity to have ‘external eyes’ witness examples of some of the grants the foundation has awarded.”

“Perhaps even more exciting,” Monroe adds, “we are seeing the fruits of an exchange of ideas and programs. For example, the highly successful East Harlem job placement program known as STRIVE was replicated here in Baltimore, and now in Israel, with exciting results. And then you have the Parents and Children Together Program (PACT), which began in Israel and soon will be introduced here in Baltimore to EBDI.”

Making a personal connection

Another important component of the Weinberg Foundation’s missions to Israel is the “counterpart” program. Each annual trip guest is “matched” with a professional peer in Israel, and for three hours one morning they meet with this individual (or sometimes with several professionals).

I met with representatives from nongovernmental agencies to talk about philanthropy in the United States and to hear about the burgeoning efforts to grow a charitable sector in Israel as economic success is achieved by many individuals and families.

Many participants have found that these exchanges, which foster “people to people” connections, are among the most meaningful experiences of the trip.

And this speaks to one of the personal benefits of these missions — the lasting relationships forged between the participants themselves and with the Weinberg Foundation. These bonds, reinforced by the foundation’s Alumni Scholars program launched in 2007, are special in their own right.

I am proud to be among an ever-growing network of leaders committed to helping each other as we work to improve our community as a whole.

Betsy Nelson, president of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or bnelson@abagrantmakers.org