A delegation from New Jersey and Delaware, representing the Jewish communities partnering with city of Arad and neighboring local council of Tamar, visited Arad to celebrate the city’s 50th birthday.
By Itay Ben-Eliezer
On Monday, October 29th, a delegation of 30 representatives from Jewish Federations in New Jersey and Delaware arrived in Arad to take part in a 50-year birthday jubilee in honor of the special bond existing between Jewish American communities and the city’s residents.
The New Jersey/Delaware – Arad/Tamar P2G Partnership represents the unique connection between the residents of Arad and many Jewish communities in New Jersey and Delaware. The Partnership office is located in Arad has been cultivating a warm relationship between Jewish communities in New Jersey and Delaware and the city of Arad and neighboring local council of Tamar for over 15 years, through joint programs, exchange of information, volunteer delegations and special events. Since its inception in 1995, the partnership’s communities have helped fund countless projects in Arad, including building of infrastructure, economic, environmental and tourist development, special programs for youth, immigrants and senior citizens and leadership development on both sides of the Atlantic.
The 50th birthday jubilee included two days of fun-filled activities in Arad, organized by the Arad Municipality headed by mayor Tali Ploskov and the Partnership office in Arad, led by Partnership Director Nili Avrahamy. The goal was to celebrate Arad’s 50th birthday by exposing delegation members to some of the programs funded by their federations, while also allowing them to experience life in the city and the region’s unique atmosphere.
The visit began on Monday with a casual meeting with young volunteers from Arad’s “Tsameret Shnat Sherut” program, who postpone their army service for one year in order to volunteer within the Arad community and far from home, as well as youth from the “Gesher” program, a platform that brings together teenagers from Arad and the United States and promotes leadership and collective Jewish identity. The delegation then continued to the Zelti youth club, which nurtures children whose families immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, helping them with all aspects of school and life.
The next stop was the breathtaking historic site of Masada, which served as stage for an official welcome that included past and present Israeli members of the partnership’s steering committee and partnership program members. Masada was the perfect site for a memorable evening, highlighted by a festive dinner overlooking spectacular mountain view.
On Tuesday morning, the delegation arrived at “Gan Hakanaim”, a playground located in Levaot neighborhood in Arad, for a groundbreaking ceremony and tree planting. It was there that delegation members met Arad Mayor Tali Ploskov, who had returned from a visit to China that very morning. Gan Hakanaim was not chosen by chance; in honor of Arad’s 50th birthday, the partnering federations decided to raise funds in benefit of a specific project to be chosen by the municipality. Gan Hakanaim’s renovation and restoration project was chosen, as the municipality felt it would greatly benefit the large population of children living nearby.
The mayor, who was embraced by the delegation members, addressed them by saying, “We hope you see the wonderful changes taking place in Arad in recent years. We have a day packed with activities ahead of us, and I am certain I will thank you more than once for your wonderful partnership with us”.
Leonard Posnock, an active volunteer in the partnership and the initiator of the generous donation in benefit of Gan Hakanaim, addressed his fellow delegation members: “Isn’t it wonderful to build a playground with our finances, rather than a security fences and shelters? We are building something for the young generation of Arad, for them to play and laugh”.
Seth Katzen, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Delaware, was just as enthusiastic: “This is meaningful in many ways. It is something positive for the next generations. For us to have a part in that is very special”.
The next stop was the Arad Historic Museum, which was built with the help of a generous donation made by the Young family, whose representatives also took part in the delegation. After watching a film describing Arad’s inception as Israel’s’ first planned community and the city’s fascinating development throughout the latter part of the 20th century, the delegation moved on to the Arad Municipality, where current Arad Mayor Ploskov and former Arad mayor Bezalel Tabib were waiting for them in order to begin a discussion panel titled “from the vision of the past to today”.
Tabib, who served as mayor during the partnership’s inception over 15 years ago, talked about the importance of strengthening the bond between communities across the Atlantic and the good it has done Arad throughout the years. Mayor Ploskov described the many municipal projects that are in various stages of planning and execution, including the widening of the main road serving as entrance to Arad from two lanes to four, a project that was planned during Tabib’s tenure as mayor and is being implemented today. The panel also discussed the challenges that lay ahead in realizing David Ben Gurion’s original vision of Arad as home to 50,000 inhabitants. Mayor Ploskov described the achievements of the city’s local education system, as well as the opening of a large “Elbit” industrial factory in town and renovation of the local recreation center, cultural center and country club – as steps towards realizing Ben Gurion’s 50 year old vision.
“I believe in this city”, said Ploskov during the panel. “It is important for me to express that I see great importance in this partnership. It is based on two communities that learn from one another and work in cooperation with one another”.
After the panel, delegation members enjoyed a visit to Arad’s developing Artist Quarter, which is home to the city’s leading painters and sculptors. Their tour began with an exciting and stimulating meeting with renowned writer Amoz Oz, an Arad resident for many years, and continued with a walking tour of the many galleries in the quarter. The delegation was then taken to the “Mitzpor” viewpoint, overlooking the beautiful mountains of the Judean desert, where they met with children from the Jewish Agency’s “Youth Futures” program.
As the sun began to set, the delegation enjoyed a peaceful hour of rest at “Muza” Arad’s famous stop-over bar, where they were joined by two distinguished Arad residents: Masada site manager Eitan Campbell, who was born in Delaware and moved to Arad with his family as a child, and Rafi Freeman, a teacher and educator who was raised in Yonkers and has made Arad his home over thirty years ago. It was there that delegation members were able to unwind, enjoy a glass of wine and reflect upon the day’s activities.
“This is my first mission to Arad,” said Marc Epstein, a delegation member from Westfield, NJ, “Listening to some of the veterans talking about what was going on here was interesting, but you don’t realize what’s been accomplished by working together until you see it. I’m very impressed. The relationships between the people seem just as important as the projects themselves”.
“Life is flourishing here,” said Susan Wallenstein, of Parsippany, NJ, while her husband Monte added, “There is a real sense of people cooperating with one another”.
As the sun disappeared behind the mountains and darkness settled into the city, all was set for the main event: a stage production of local talent at the Arad recreation center. The show began with Arad’s philharmonic orchestra, who had played in New Jersey and Delaware a few years back, and continued with dynamic song and dance performances by “Crazy Moves” Dance Company and “Vocal Jazz”, an ensemble that had received substantial funding from the partnership when it was just starting out.
The evening was hosted by Eyal Keydar, Chairman of the Partnership’s Israeli steering committee, and Marina Glazer, head of the events department and immigrant absorption at the Arad Municipality. Onstage, Mayor Tali Ploskov and Partnership Director Nili Avrahamy thanked delegation members once again for their commitment to Arad and its residents. Stanley Stone, one of the partnership’s original founders and the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, received a work of art crafted by local artist Alon Aharoni entitled “Desert Roots”, in gratitude for his many years of dedication to Arad’s development. Sivia Braunstein, the Partnership Chair in the United States for the past six years, received an honorary Arad citizenship as well as a glass painting of the landscape of Arad and Tamar, made especially for her by artist Helli Hason Cohen.
“Throughout this day, the last years have flashed through my head,” said Stone, “We have become family. Our work became real, and it touched everyone because of the connections made by the people. That was our goal from the very beginning. I think that is what the partnership is all about”.
“I feel more at home here than anywhere else,” said Braunstein, “I brought my 28 year-old daughter here and she said to me, ‘mom, these are your people’. The people of Arad are my family”.
As the show came to a close, it was evident that the members of the delegation were deeply affected by the city’s efforts to make them feel at home. The past two days served as a passageway into the richness of Arad life, as well as an opportunity to experience the wonders the bond between Jewish communities from Arad and New Jersey and Delaware helped create.
“This partnership has changed this city and hopefully will continue to change Arad for many years to come,” summarized Nili Avrahamy, “We are already looking forward to the next delegation”.