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Tanzman Fellows on a mission
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Tanzman Fellows on a mission

The Yemin Orde Choir
The Yemin Orde Choir

The 2012 Marion and Norman Tanzman Leadership Fellows are a group representing a variety of denominations, synagogues, schools, and agencies in Middlesex County’s Jewish community, who were nominated by their respective organizations as emerging leaders. This group engages in learning, brainstorming, and bonding, honing skills needed to lead their institutions and create a more connected and vibrant Jewish community. This program, made possible through a generous grant from The Marion and Norman Tanzman Foundation, also features a special eight-day mission to Israel, specifically geared toward leadership development. This is how participants Jennifer Bullock, Debra Fisher, and Laura Gordon, members of the second Tanzman Fellows Group, describe their recently completed mission.

In February, 15 Tanzman Fellows left Middlesex and traveled to Israel on a trip marked by vast moments of humor, surprise, and compassion. We met social entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers, creators, and educators, who are investing their ideas and energy to revitalize the established Jewish community. We came home as a collective, with a renewed drive to invest in the vibrancy of our local Jewish community.

Exhausted and disheveled, we arrived at Neot Kedumim, a biblical landscape reserve, for a humbling two-hour exercise in experiential learning, armed with an oversized hoop, an ancient cistern,blindfolds, and a herd of sheep and goats. Lessons learned? There’s a reason our ancestors were able to change the world. Those shepherds knew their audience.

We felt the true impact and reach of the Federation’s work in each visit with ordinary people who rise above the odds. One of our guides urged us to “live in a world in which you believe, and turn it into the one in which you live.”

At Yemin Orde, we saw 500 at-risk youth determined to transform their lives through education and community service — and the teachers who tirelessly inspire them. They welcomed us in song as we sat in the state-of-the-art science lab, rebuilt by our community following the devastating Carmel forest fire, in memory of Doug Stahl.

We met Assael, a 19-year-old who lost a leg, his mother, and three brothers in a terrorist attack and found a sense of purpose at the Ilan Sports Center for the Disabled. Now he dreams of competing in the 2014 Paralympics and helps other kids to thrive in the face of adversity. As he prevailed over us in wheelchair basketball, we were keenly aware that we casually deserted our chairs while he stayed behind in his.

We visited the YMCA in Jerusalem, dubbed by its executive leadership a ‘sermon in stone,’ a tribute to ongoing dialogue between the faiths; we played a Palestinian-Israeli soccer game at the Peres Peace Center with children from the poorest communities on both sides of the wall; and we struggled to understand what the future holds.

We did arts and crafts at a ‘mommy and me’ class and hung out with teens in the bunker that doubles as their afterschool hangout in Ashkelon. With our community’s support, A Better World supports low-income families with community-based classes and programs. One mother told us, “no one ever teaches you how to be a better mother — here I can learn.” These kids, despite their circumstances, seem friendly, outgoing, and confident. What went through their minds as the rockets detonated through their streets only weeks following our return home?

Sometimes it is the unexpected moments that leave the most poignant impression — a perfect rainbow over the Jerusalem horizon; a spirited hora of Israeli soldiers chanting Zionist songs arm-in-arm with Birthright teens; an affecting story told by a veteran tour guide who dedicates his life to Zionistic ideals.

What is our legacy as a group? Where do we as Tanzman Fellows go from here? We are committed to create something lasting and extraordinary through the Federation. To paraphrase one of our speakers during our last session together, “When people come together magic happens.” We took this phrase to heart. We will make it happen.

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