JCA and partner agency professionals take part in educational Israeli seminar


Federation Communications Director


                This past January, more than a dozen employees from the Jewish Community Alliance, Jewish Family & Community Services and the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville embarked on a special 10-month journey together of study, dialogue, discovery and growth. The program, tabbed the 'JCA's Israel professional study seminar', blends assigned readings with in-class discussions in addition to thought provoking films and passages.   
                "I hope that people walk away from this experience with a better understanding of Israel and Jewish peoplehood," said JCA executive director and seminar organizer Myron Flager. "That it will be meaningful to them, not only personally but professionally and they'll be able to take this knowledge and have it as the underpinnings of their work moving forward."
                The group of 13 professionals, comprised of 10 from the JCA, two from JFCS and one from Federation meet with Flagler and seminar assistant lecturer Pam Tavill to discuss the month's readings, which cover a host of different topics. From the history of the land, to the Jewish people and even subjects such as the nation's economic infrastructure, its social norms and varying levels of religiosity within the state, seminar participants are able to weigh in with their thoughts and opinions while keeping track of them in a monthly journal.
                "I didn't realize how little I knew about Israel and how such a small country is full of so much depth," said JFCS' director of clinical services, Rachel Weinstein. " This seminar is helping me feel more connected, so that by the time I get there I can have some really meaningful moments."
                The capstone experience for Weinstein and her program counterparts is a 10-day trip to Israel where they will put what they've learned over the course of the past year into action."I finally feel like I am at an age and stage developmentally to really, truly appreciate this experience," explained Weinstein, who will be making her first pilgrimage to her homeland. 
                Also making his initial trip to the Land of Milk and Honey is the JCA's wellness and fitness director Eiffel Gilyana, who grew up in Northern Iraq in a land known as Kurdistan. Gilyana has been in the States for seven years now, but has had more exposure to the land thousands of miles removed from it, rather than when practically had it in his own backyard.
                "The most interesting aspect of this course is the comparison of what we studied in school, growing up under Saddam (Hussein's) regime, which described Israel as a constant threat upon the Arab world," Gilyana described of his experiences. "The contrast between that and being able to study, read and educate myself about who the Israelis are, Zionism and where it came from is a truly eye opening experience."
                Not every one of the seminar participants are Jewish, in fact about half the group is, making for a truly diverse group with unique experiences and viewpoints that they bring to each and every meeting. "I think our group has been amazing at challenging me and challenging each other as they're trying to understand the information which is very diverse," Flagler said. "As each session passes they all are having greater insight into Israel and an even greater thirst to learn more about it."    
                That thirst will be quenched December 2 -11th, when the group brings their experiences studying together here in Jacksonville to life, exploring all that the Jewish state has to offer. Stops on the trip are scheduled for traditional sites such as the Dead Sea, Masada and the Kotel in addition to unique and authentic experiences like taking in a Shabbat dinner with an Israeli family and being immersed in the country's culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.