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The Fabric That Keeps Us Together: My CLI Trip to Israel

The Jewish Federation’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI) is a 15-month program that offers young professionals ages 25-40 a series of monthly skill-building sessions, opportunities to develop and implement social impact projects, receive one-on-one mentorship and a 10-day leadership trip to Israel.  The Israel trip is a highly curated experience designed to encourage CLIers to set aside their preconceived perspectives and to understand Israel through the eyes of the leaders dedicating their lives to shaping Israel’s future.

George Bukhin, CLI 2016 participant, recently traveled to Israel as part of the Russian Jewish Leadership track with nearly 70 peers from the CLI program.  Read about his experiences during the trip below.

Of course spending 10 days in Israel was incredible — how could it not be?  We got to explore many parts of Jerusalem, pay our respects at Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, and meet with interesting and powerful individuals from all over Israel. Don’t let me forget the ocean view in Tel Aviv or the humbling feeling of sitting in the very room where the State of Israel was created. But how do the 10 days we experienced in Israel really relate to CLI, or the work that we all hope to achieve as community leaders back in L.A.?

Being in the Russian Jewish track, I have to admit that meeting Natan Sharansky was one of the things I was looking forward to most. Without surprise, I was amazed to hear his story and learn about his perspective. As I continue to think about what he said, one statement in particular stuck with me, and truly summarizes the importance of CLI, our trip to Israel and our mission at home.

“What country is it most dangerous to be a Jew in the world?” Sharansky asked CLI. I don’t recall any participants really responding to the question or saying anything, but his answer was, “The United States of America.” I was shocked! How could it be? As a devout patriot, how could the country I love so much be the one that is most dangerous for Jews?

And yet, he couldn’t be more correct. Sharansky continued to explain that being a Jew in the USA is so easy, it’s so free and, aside from Israel, there is no better place to be living as a Jew in the world. But it’s also too easy to lose — to assimilate and lose one’s Jewish identity. Every day we lose hundreds of Jews because they no longer consider themselves “part of the tribe.” Judaism is no longer important to them. They no longer raise their children Jewish. And so, within a blink of an eye, not only is one Jew lost, but their entire future lineage.

That statement really hit me. As young Jewish leaders of the community, it is our duty to ensure the Jewish future in Los Angeles and in the USA. It’s easy to be a Jew in Israel. Even the most secular Jew is immersed in Judaism, for the mere fact that he or she lives in the Jewish homeland, the State of Israel. And so, it’s our duty to build Judaism into our communities, in whatever community we may be back home.

The 10 days in Israel showed us so many aspects of Jewish life. To me, that’s what CLI is about:  Finding your “community,” being a leader, and figuring out a way to build a bright Jewish future for your community of choice. As a whole, our mission is to create a community in which any Jew can find their home and just as in Israel where diversity thrives, Judaism is the fabric that keeps us together.

Did I mention the 10 days in Israel with CLI were incredible?

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