Notes from the Field with Carole Yellen - JFSSD
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Notes from the Field with Carole Yellen

Finding Community in the Promised Land

Carole Yellen
Senior Director of the Center for Jewish Care

In May 2023, ten JFS team members and four board members embarked on the long-awaited CommUnity Trip of a Lifetime to Israel organized by Jewish Federation of San Diego County. Alongside more than 200 San Diego Jewish Community members, we underwent a transformational experience that was extremely impactful—both professionally and personally—for each and every one of us.

This was my first visit to Israel, and I was surprised by the emotions bubbling up. At the Kotel, tears filled my eyes as I observed the hopeful energy of the many inserting their prayers into the crevices. Walking over the worn stones that pave the streets of the Old City, I was humbled by the thought of everyone who had walked those steps before me for thousands of years. Witnessing the hurried masses shopping for challot in Mechane Yehuda, I felt a deeper sense of belonging to a global Jewish community who celebrate together.

Over the course of the trip, we were given the opportunity to join Israeli colleagues who are addressing some of the same societal challenges we tackle at JFS. We helped sort through food waste at the wholesale market to redistribute to individuals facing food insecurity similar to our own nutrition services. We played with Ethiopian children who recently arrived at an absorption center with their families to build a new life just like the many asylum seekers and refugees we support. We also walked the solemn path of Yad Vashem which gave new insights into the experiences of the Holocaust Survivors we still serve. Each of our Israeli counterparts echoed the familiar words of kavod (dignity), gemilut chasadim (loving kindness), and tikvah (hope) when describing the shared values that drive their work. We also came to understand that, even in Israel, these values represent ideals that may be challenged by broken systems.

We also came to understand that, even in Israel, these values represent ideals that may be challenged by broken systems. We arrived in Israel during a unique time as protestors filled the streets living out their democratic desire for tzedek/justice. Experts at the Shalom Hartman Institute helped us unpack these current events and other complex issues facing Israel by highlighting diverse viewpoints in an effort to build bridges of understanding rather than fuel division.

Upon our return to San Diego, our JFS minyan gathered one last time to reflect on our takeaways. Over and over again, the one word that kept coming up was kehillah/community. Not only did we all learn how Israeli culture focuses more on community than our own country’s rugged individualism, but we also returned with a renewed sense of community with each other—fellow Jewish colleagues, partners, and community members throughout San Diego.

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