America's United Jewish Community's Tel Aviv One conference, which began on Sunday, set itself three challenges: To develop a future generation of leaders; to create an understanding of where donated dollars are spent; and to cultivate a relationship with Israel.
The conference was designed as an opportunity for emerging young US Jewish leaders to experience Israel in style - in the heart of its most advanced urban center.
The Pittsburgh group, like many others, had planned pre-conference activities for its delegation. Last Wednesday and Thursday, the group visited the Karmiel-Misgav region in the Galilee - their Partnership 2000 community - to see how their Federation dollars are spent. The members of the group expressed deep satisfaction with what they saw.
But ultimately the most affecting part of such meetings is the personal relationships that are formed.
"The real substance of the relationship is between the people..." says Mike Garfinkel one of those who chaired the committee that organized Pittsburgh's delegation. "Everyone [who comes to Israel] sees sights. But we made bonds."
The first full day of the conference began early, with an option of exercise or prayer on the beach, followed by a plenary address given by Hebrew University communications professor Gadi Taub and Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai.
The group then broke into smaller sections to participate in forums covering topics on the Middle East, spirituality, media, the IDF and commerce. By midday, each delegation boarded a bus to tour Tel Aviv and learn about the city's history and culture. The long day ended with a social mixer and a night out on the town for those who still had the energy.
Tuesday morning's program focused on "Operation Promise," the joint North American federations-Jewish Agency initiative to bring the Falash Mura from Ethiopia to Israel. After a moving testimonial from an Ethiopian immigrant and an inspiring presentation on the plight of the Falash Mura, the groups again divided into separate delegations and boarded buses to learn more about Ethiopian communities in Israel.
The day ended with energetic dance, loud music, and plenty of food in Neveh Tzedek.
The last stop scheduled for Tel Aviv One is a visit to an air force base and a concert by Shotey HaNevua. The conference wraps up Wednesday evening following a plenary meeting and off-site activities on how to take the lessons learned in Tel Aviv back to American Jewish communities.
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