How do we make peoplehood tangible in our 21st century world? We’re doing it. The impressive achievements of the first ten years of our partnership demonstrate our collective force when we partner in common purpose.
Since 1996, when leaders from our community stepped forward to become part of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2000 (P2K), our commitment and involvement have become a powerful catalyst for change in MetroWest and Ofakim-Merchavim.
Today, we are one of 550 global communities in 44 partnerships with Israel. Sharing ideas, strengths, challenges and models of success, our P2K partnerships have become the paradigm for successfully partnering the Jewish world.
What Will You Make of It?
1997-1999 Early emphasis on economic development initiatives. • Expansion of moshavim program for the region. We help create opportunities to attract new residents by marketing home sites on moshavim. • Later, social/educational/living bridge projects become our major focus. • A student leadership group enables college students to obtain full scholarships in exchange for volunteering in the community. Each year, approximately 30 young people participate in workshops to develop leadership skills.
1998 Launch of New Horizons art project. Artists and art students from all over Israel come to the region to work with youngsters, and the resulting art projects are exhibited.
2003–2004 Launch of professional and educators’ exchanges. • Following a consultant’s recommendation to enlarge the circles of participation in both Israel and New Jersey, the first P2K march takes place in Ofakim, involving schools, olim, soldiers and visitors from Metrowest. Designed to increase awareness of the partnership, this becomes an annual event.
2005 Launch of Youth Futures in Ofakim, a flagship educational initiative helping children and youth at risk excel academically while developing and integrating socially. • Introduction of youth encounters—Mifgash. Youth activists from New Jersey enjoy home hospitality in Ofakim during Passover. During Hanukah, we reciprocate and host youngsters from the region. • A new leadership approach is implemented, with subcommittees in Israel headed by Israeli lay leaders. Volunteers on the steering committee in New Jersey become directly involved in specific projects.
2006 A unique exchange program for law enforcement officials is developed. A group of MetroWest volunteers who work in sheriffs’ offices travel to Israel to spend time with police in Ofakim. On a reciprocal visit, the Israeli police officers spend a week in New Jersey hosted by their counterparts, and then together, the group participates in a national police unity gathering in Washington D.C.
A Decade of Connection
MetroWest’s partnership with Ofakim-Merchavim began in 1996—prompted by the personal appeal of then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
One of the major textile producers in Ofakim had closed, contributing to Israel’s highest unemployment rate. When asked, our leadership stepped forward and after a moving visit to Ofakim in February 1996, agreed to partner with this special region in northwestern Negev. Founded in 1955, by immigrants from Morocco and Tunisia, during the 1990s, Ofakim absorbed thousands from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, growing its population to some 24,500. We decided to focus our efforts on youth, local empowerment, leadership development and living bridge activities.
A Decade of Mutual Impact
Our visionary partnership has contributed greatly to the educational, economic and social development of the Ofakim-Merchavim area.
Two large-scale missions from New Jersey to the region were cornerstones in the development of our partnership. In 1999, a megamission with some 400 participants spent a full day in the region, hosted by families from Ofakim and Merchavim, experiencing several of the projects firsthand. A group of teenagers from Ofakim and Merchavim presented a wonderful musical based on the life of youngsters in the Negev. A few months later, they were invited to perform in New Jersey for the Major Gifts Event, serving as ambassadors with a message of the power of true partnership.
A second mission—to express MetroWest’s solidarity with the people of Israel during the Intifada—arrived on September 11, 2001.
En route to Ofakim, we heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center. Several public officials from New Jersey, including Senator Frank Lautenberg and many individuals with relatives and friends in New York, were on the mission. We watched the events unfold in shock at the JCC in Ofakim, surrounded by the warmth and care of our friends in Ofakim-Merchavim. Planned festivities became a wonderful and moving memorial service, forever connecting our communities.
We have built living bridges between MetroWest and Ofakim-Merchavim through scores of reciprocal visits of teachers, principals, families, students and volunteers— strengthening both of our communities.
“I believe in the common fate of Jews all over the world. According to the saying ‘a man will come to the aid of his brother,’ the bond between communities is a reciprocal one of give and take. Each community must RECEIVE from her partner community its strengths and must GIVE its strengths to the parallel community. Each community benefits from its partners, and everyone grows and flourishes from the experience.” Rafi Tweezer, volunteer, Chair of the Living Bridge sub-committee in Ofakim-Merchavim
“It is amazing to me that with every mission we bring to Israel, the participants’ favorite part of the trip is ALWAYS Ofakim-Merchavim. We connect to the warmth of the people, their love of the Negev, and their desire to better their lives and the lives of those living in the region. It’s always like ‘going home’ when we are with them.” Ellen Goldner, MetroWest Co-Chair, P2K
Together, taking our partnership to the next level
What an extraordinary impact we’ve had so far. And it’s really just the beginning. Our efforts in Ofakim-Merchavim are uniting our youth, creating community leaders and fostering professional exchanges. We’ve been advancing regional cooperation, attracting development and creating places where families want to live and work.
At the same time, we are innovating to connect our next generation to Israel in new ways, creating enduring connections that will shape New Jersey’s future. A decade ago, our communities boldly grasped this opportunity to make a dramatic difference as one people. Now we’re ready to take this partnership to the next level.