Trio of Federation employees spend memorable weekend of partnership with Israelis in Tennessee mountains


By Jewish Federation of Jacksonville


                In early November, three Federation employees joined other Jewish young professionals throughout the southeast and seven Israelis for an extended weekend of learning, meaningful conversation and quality connections. Israel Partnership Director Jill Abel, Community Shlicha Dana Marmari and Federation Communications Director Matt Franzblau arrived in Chattanooga, Tenn., following nearly a year of preparation and planning for this pivotal weekend in the Eastern Tennessee mountains.

                In advance of his arrival, Franzblau took part in a special year-long leadership course with a fellow Israeli in Jacksonville’s sister region of Hadera-Eiron, while Abel helped oversee the program. Month-by-month, Franzblau and his American counterparts in cities such as Charlotte, Nashville, Charleston and Chattanooga would respond to questions posed to them by program administrators, and then send those answers electronically overseas for their friends in Israel to subsequently read and respond to.

                “Being able to meet the partners we had been working with all year was a special experience,” Franzblau said. “Even though my individual partner wasn’t able to make the trip, seeing and interacting with others in the group was meaningful because we took what we had talked about via email or Skype and built upon that for profound in-person interactions.”

                The reward for this hard work was a four-day meeting hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga and reservations at a posh hostel called the Crash Pad just a short walk from downtown. The ‘Pad’ as it’s affectionately called is owned and operated by two member of the city’s Jewish community. After a brief meet and greet at the Federation, the group got settled into its bunks and headed out to a favorite local eatery also owned by Jewish entrepreneurs.

                The second day of the retreat included a picturesque incline ride up to and then a hike on Lookout Point in advance of Shabbat dinner which was hosted by members of the community’s most active and influential members. Shabbat morning featured a trip to the renowned Tennessee Aquarium before lunch at the city’s premier kosher style deli. In between tourist attractions and meals were stops at the city’s two synagogues and lone Chabad coupled with thought provoking discussions led by group administrators about the difference between life in America and Israel as Jew.

 “Through this experience I came to realize that I take my Judaism for granted, because in Israel the majority of people there are Jewish,” explained Israeli Limor Nagler.

                A special stop at a local art shop even gave group participants the chance to express themselves on canvas for an upcoming exhibition. The magical and most memorable weekend wound down with a soothing Havdalah service around a fire pit followed by an unforgettable dinner at one of Chattanooga’s finest farm to table restaurants, also owned and operated by Jewish community members. The retreat wrapped up with a Sunday morning discussion and planning period from how to take what each participant learned during an impactful four days and bring it back with them to their respective communities.  

“It was a unique experience,” Nagler added. “To meet the partners that we have been talking in the last year was exciting. I didn't really know what to except from it, but it was really interesting to see the special bond there is between the Jewish communities.”

              Marmari, a fellow Israeli, who now calls America home agreed with her countrywoman’s sentiments. “Throughout our conference in Chattanooga, I was excited to see American and Israeli Jewish leaders coming together, discussing leadership and building a live and vibrant bridge between the communities”, she said. “Although the participants all came from different backgrounds and cultures, they put all their efforts in forming deep connections and it seemed as if they all understood that these connections are the foundations for world Jewry and will prosper the growth of Israel,” she added. “They understood that having a friendly face in mind, while thinking about a state, truly places that state in your heart, and that changes everything.”

At the end of the trip, participants proposed ideas on how to take this program and its initiatives forward into the future, so be on the lookout for unique opportunities pairing and partnering southeastern Jewish communities in the U.S., with Israelis in the Hadera-Eiron region.