From left to right: Ifat Porat, Director of International Partnerships, Mayor Ofir Libstein, and Miri Ketayi, Director of Israel & Overseas at the House of Israel in Balboa Park.
“As I entered the Jewish Federation offices for the first time, I was astonished to see the same flag that I display on my desk, the flag of Sha'ar HaNegev municipality, flying in the most visible location in the main foyer. But when I entered the main boardroom, I was even more surprised to see what was on the wall: two clocks. Under the first clock, it read, “San Diego,” with the clock showing the local time, and under the other clock it read, “Sha'ar HaNegev", and the clock showed the local time in Israel. This sight sent chills through my body. I understood how much the San Diego community cares about our community in Sha’ar HaNegev. These people think of us every day as they enter the office and their boardroom. The rest of my visit further manifested the strong sense of brotherhood and caring I had sensed during our first few minutes at the federation's offices.” Ofir Libstein, Mayor of Sha’ar HaNegev, September 2019.
Ofir Libstein, the new mayor of Sha’ar HaNegev, was elected in the last municipal election, in October 2018. For the past 25 years, he has resided in Kfar Aza, by the border near the Gaza Strip, with his wife Vered and their four sons. Last month was Ofir’s first visit to San Diego, the region’s partner city for the last 20 years. Ofir arrived with Ifat Porat, the municipality’s Director of International Partnerships, a new position that Ofir created.
The purpose of Ofir and Ifat’s visit was twofold: 1) To familiarize Ofir and Ifat with the San Diego Jewish community and the Jewish Federation, and 2) for the community to understand Ofir’s vision for the region and the partnership with the San Diego community. The overarching goal was to continue to foster connections and meaningful people-to-people relationships between the two regions while experiencing the love and warmth of the San Diego community.
During the three day visit, Ofir and Ifat interacted with many groups and individuals in the community: heads of local agencies, rabbis, donors who direct their giving to Israel, and those who direct it to specific projects in Sha’ar HaNegev, such as SouthUp, one of Israel’s most prominent technology incubators. SouthUp was established with the seed money and a vision that came from the San Diego Jewish community, and today is considered one of the most innovative incubators in the country. Ofir and Ifat also met with high-level city officials to discuss potential educational and technological collaborations.
In each meeting, Ofir explained the challenges his community withstands daily due to their proximity to the border of the Gaza strip. However, Ofir’s positive outlook was clearly articulated. “Five percent of the time, we are exposed to harsh rocket attacks. There are days when parents are afraid to send their children to school by the school bus, which can be attacked by an anti-tank missile from Gaza. Many children suffer from severe post-traumatic stress, and many fearful adolescents sleep with their parents. The other 95% of the time, we live in one of the most beautiful regions in Israel, we have the strongest sense of community, our educational system is excellent, and our economic growth exceeds many other areas in Israel.”
So what is Ofir’s vision for our partnership? “We need the San Diego community to help us to continue to build a resilient region, with strong education and economic growth. These two aspects will help to strengthen our community, which is fundamental for our resilience.”
For more information on our work in Israel and partership with Sha'ar HaNegev, please contact Miri Ketayi.