Forging Lasting Connections with Israel

My reflections on building bridges with the people and land of Israel

Dear Friends,

As I prepared my remarks yesterday for last night’s Town Hall on Antisemitism, once again I came back to the need to balance the light with the dark. It is essential that we pay attention to the darkness surrounding us; that we stay strong and resilient and outspoken. But it is equally important to lift up all that is positive and beautiful about our community, our values, and traditions. So after speaking about rising antisemitism and security, with Hanukkah just around the corner, I ended with light: Jewish life in San Diego is thriving. We see that light every day at Federation, especially in all the ways we strengthen San Diego’s connections to Israel. The past few weeks have been particularly impactful on this front. 

Just before Thanksgiving, as part of our Gesher (Bridge) program, we welcomed 10 agency heads from our sister region Sha’ar HaNegev to San Diego. These leaders visited Federation, the JCC, Seacrest Village, San Diego Jewish Academy, Hillel of San Diego, and JFS. They toured each organization, meeting with staff and community members, and fully experiencing Jewish life in San Diego. This followed a summer trip where our local agency leaders visited their counterparts in Sha’ar HaNegev. The Gesher program, which began as a professional exchange, has deepened into lifelong friendships and has created powerful connections between and among agencies, further strengthening our ties to this remarkable, resilient region and to Israel.

As I write these words, our first post-pandemic Honeymoon Israel trip is underway. Honeymoon Israel offers ten-day trips to Jewish young adults and their partners from all faiths and backgrounds who are in committed, long-term relationships. Our Honeymoon Israel cohort of 20 couples is in Israel right now, and based on the many (many!) posts we are seeing, are having an outstanding experience. With Israel as a backdrop, these couples are having important conversations about the type of Jewish homes they want to build together. When these couples return to San Diego, we look forward to welcoming them with open arms as they continue to build community with each other.

In just a few weeks, teens from Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Beth Am will depart for Israel, with significant support from Federation’s Teen Immersive Travel grants. All will connect directly with their peers in Sha’ar HaNegev while in Israel, forming relationships that last long beyond their return to the US.

If all of this awakens a desire to travel to Israel for the first time or the fiftieth, register for our CommUNITY Trip to Israel, May 4-11, 2023! Now’s the time, as we’ve just opened up registration for the trip electives, giving you the chance to customize your trip to suit your interests. Take a deeper dive into areas like food and wine, women entrepreneurs, hi-tech, pluralism, coexistence, refugees and immigration, art and culture, and more. Electives are with smaller groups of people and will be an unforgettable part of the trip.

I especially want to thank everyone who made a contribution to Federation on Giving Tuesday. Thank you for enabling us to do this work and to strengthen our community’s connection to Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,


Heidi Gantwerk
President & Chief Executive Officer

Jewish Federation of San Diego County
Joseph and Lenka Finci Jewish Community Building
4950 Murphy Canyon Road | San Diego, CA 92123
858-571-3444 |


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