PHOTO COLLAGE: Dror Israel programs in Akko include a youth movement with Arab and Jewish chapters, a bike repair program where Arab youth learn to fix bicycles, a neighborhood committee that meets weekly to address local issues and many relief programs during Covid, including supporting vulnerable members of the community and providing a camp for the children of health-care workers.
Portland hosted two Israeli visitors in mid November: A representative from Dror Israel and Israel's Consul General to the Pacific Northwest. Below are stories of each of the visitors.
Dror Israel educates for peace and equality
BY DEBORAH MOON
Dror Israel believes in democracy, equality and peace created through education and community, Noam Schlanger told Portlanders during a recent visit from Israel.
Schlanger lives in one of 16 Dror Israel educator communities, or educational kibbutzim, with 1,300 educators who reach 150,000 participants a year with programming designed to build a just and equal society. During his mid-November visit, Schlanger spoke to several groups, including the board and staff of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, a funding partner of Dror Israel for many years.
Akko, the port city where Schlanger lives and works, is a “beautiful port city… a mixed city … a poor city with high unemployment” that he calls a microcosm of Israel. The city is less than 60% Jewish, of which a quarter are olim (immigrants) from the former Soviet Union, India and other countries. The Arab population includes Muslims, Christians, Druze and others. Walking the streets, one can hear many languages including Hebrew, Arabic and Russian.
“Having so many different people in one city” offers the potential for either inevitable conflict or “the chance for a true shared society,” says Schlanger.
“Into this mix, Dror Israel came in 2005,” he says. “With the generous help of the people of Portland, we took over an old people’s home and made it into an urban community of educators, a kibbutz,” he says. Now 80 educators live there, manage many schools in the area and run 12 programs in Akko reaching 20,000 people annually.
“Some of the things we thought would be wonderful weren’t, so we changed,” says Schlanger. “We change and adapt to meet actual needs of people.”
Even in a shared society, each culture and each group needs its own place to celebrate their culture and religion, he says. The challenge is to design a shared platform where all can be fruitful but meet in a friendly way.
During nationwide riots in May 2021 that premise was put to the test. Akko’s Arab community planned a peaceful protest, but the protest turned into two days of riots.
Schlanger showed a photo of an Arab man visiting a badly injured man in a hospital bed.
The visitor was a graduate of an Akko Arab Dror Israel program who had put himself between the violent crowd and the battered man and saved his life, said Schlanger.
“Education sometimes pays off, sometimes it bears fruit and saves lives,” he says. “We are working day to day to build relationships.”
“No one left Akko after May 2021,” he says. “We are here for the long run. We have a social network the provides the mental and emotional support for what we do.”
For information on Dror Israel and its programs, visit drorisrael.org.
Israel's Consul General to PNW visits Portland, explores partnerships
BY DEBORAH MOON
The new Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest was in Portland Nov. 14-16 for the first of what he hopes will be many visits to expand ties and partnerships with local Jewish, business, political and academic communities.
On Aug. 1, Marco Sermoneta began what is expected to be a four-year stint as the Consul General of Israel to the PNW based in San Francisco. He hopes to visit Portland three to four times a year.
“We can do a lot together,” says Sermoneta. “I am excited to see how we can work together on a variety of issues.”
During his tenure, he hopes to broaden understanding among Oregon political, business and Jewish leaders about Israel and why it is so important for the United States. He hopes to take state political leaders to Israel and to lead a trade delegation to Israel to increase interest in Israeli high tech, especially sports tech. Sports technology developed in Israel includes wearables to help athletes improve performance analysis and technology that enhances the involvement of fans and spectators. He said Oregon and Israel could both benefit from sharing best practices.
“Portland and Oregon have a lot of interesting companies active on the global stage,” he adds, mentioning Intel and Nike.
But on his first Portland visit, he primarily met with Jewish community leadership (including Jewish Federation of Greater Portland President and CEO Marc Blattner, with whom he is pictured at right). His goal for the visit was “to continue our joint work in the community, to plan together for celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary next year and to get a better sense of the lay of the land.”
Sermoneta says that for a nation that was re-established just 75 years ago in a very complex geopolitical region, Israel has been able to thrive and create a strong economy.
“We are able to do a lot of ‘punching above our weight’ when it comes to contributing for the benefit of humankind,” he says. “More and more our neighbors are recognizing Israel is a force for good.”
The Consul General also met with Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to discuss ways to combat the scourge of antisemitism. He also had lunch with the President of Portland State University and Jewish leaders on campus.
Born in Rome, Italy, Sermoneta says, “I am proud to define myself as an Israeli and as a Diaspora Jew. I wear both hats. My purpose is to love my brothers and sisters – all of the Jewish people.”
Sermoneta joined the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993. Most recently, 2019-22, he was a Special Envoy to the Conference of Interaction and Confidence-building in Asia and Focal Point on Afghanistan in the Department for Euro-Asia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously, he served as Israel’s Ambassador to Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, and as Deputy Ambassador to Japan.