Wednesday, June 27 - The Tel Aviv Foundation

Day started early. Very early. I hope I do not start every entry that way, but today was a very special day and everybody was excited!

After breakfast, Dr. Megi Navon of the Tel Aviv Foundation (TAF) picked us up along with one of her associates, Yitzchak. We have a very special connection between our congregation, Ohr Shalom Synagogue, and TAF. Over the last number of years, a number of families within our community have become very involved in the important, unique work of TAF, many through the tireless efforts of Gert Thaler. In fact, TAF honored Gert at a wonderful dinner in San Diego just a few months ago.

So today was our chance to see the work of the foundation in person. TAF represents a visionary approach to the partnership between local government and philanthropy. Through TAF, the municipality of Tel Aviv has accomplished incredible projects benefiting every resident, every visitor and everyone in the whole State of Israel. The over 350 projects (if my memory serves) of TAF have benefited local schools, day care centers, Senior activities centers, museums, cultural life and every other aspect of life in Tel Aviv. The list includes the Olympic Rowing Center, and Israel can now boast of its two Olympic rowing medals!

Jennifer and I were honored that Megi spent most of the day with us, teaching us about TAF, getting to know us and imagining how we can work together to benefit Jews in Israel and throughout the world by our collaborations.

Megi, as the savta (grandmother) of a beautiful infant named Adam, realized, for us to be able to enjoy and productively use our time together, our children would need to be properly engaged/entertained. So our day started in Park HaYarkon, Tel Aviv’s Central Park. It is an immense area filled with a variety of venues and experiences for everyone – from the youngest to the oldest.

We started with a short walk through a small zoo area, where the kids especially enjoyed the baby raccoons and chickens. Their eyes opened wide in the Reptile House, at least I think it was the reptile house, ignoring the chinchillas and squirrels.
It is such a beautiful statement of children’s ability to access the awesome and wondrous realities of our world that children who regularly visit the San Diego Zoo & Wild Animal Park were still oooed and aaaaahhhed by animals on a much smaller scale!

While Megi and Itzhik entertained and treated Shayna, Nadiv & Maital, they also told us stories about TAF, its projects, and their wonderful interactions with members of Ohr Shalom.

In the midst of our conversation, they brought us over to a special children’s part of the park – Jungo Jungo. This area is filled with slides, sophisticated jungle gyms and mazes. The children loved it! They ran around, slid down the slides, played in the balls and got lost in the mazes! They even fed the goats, which fascinated Maital.
In fact, we spent so much time letting the kids enjoy the park, and the adults enjoy the kids, that we had to rearrange our schedule a bit.
When we finally justify the park, we picked up Admiral (res.) Abraham Ben Shoshan, the Director General of TAF, and drove to a restaurant right on the beach. At lunch, while the kids enjoyed their pizza, banana shakes, view of HaYam HaTichon (Mediterranean Sea) and the cool ocean breeze, we continued our conversation with Avraham, and learned even more about TAF. In particular, we talked about the large missions that TAF has hosted in the past, and what it would look like to put together a group from San Diego to come visit with a focus on the work of the foundation.
Next to the restaurant, right on the beach, is another amazing TAF project – an outdoor museum to the history of Illegal Immigration to Israel. It is part of the amazing and complicated fabric of Israeli society that a Western-style democracy, governed by the rule of law, celebrates this part of its history. For those whose knowledge of the Illegal Immigration to Israel, both before and after World War II is limited to Leon Uris’ Exodus, the book or the movie, I would strongly encourage you to explore this fascinating and heroic chapter in our history.

The exhibit itself is a walking exhibit that you can walk through as you stroll from the road down to the beach. The walkways are shaped like boats, reminiscent of the boats that carried early Zionists looking to build the land, those seeking to escape the hatred and persecutions in Europe, those fleeing death and ultimately those survivors who had faced the Shoah, survived, and would not be denied their entrance to Israel.
There also is a children's playground shaped like a boat, the Amalia, which was filled with illegal immigrants, all children, escaping from Europe.
Included in the exhibit are six panels shaped to look like a wave, which list, by year, all of the ships which succeeded or failed to bring Jews to Israel. The six represent the six-million who were murdered, whose lives contributed to the rebirth of the State of Israel but were hatefully struck down before they could witness the dream of 2000 years realized. An incredibly powerful and moving exhibit for all visitors to Tel Aviv and the entire Jewish people, made possible through TAF.
On the sides of the exhibit is a photographic account of what occurred, including pictures of the crowded boats, various individuals, some cartoon drawings, and more. We stopped in front of a picture of a postcard, and Jennifer commented on it. It was then that Megi told an amazing story. The museum was completed and they were celebrating the opening of the exhibit. A tourist staying in the Tel Aviv King David Hotel, right next door, came by to see what was going on. When told it was a museum for the Illegal Immigrants, he shared that he had been one of those illegals, who, after his ship arrived, ultimately ended up in the States. He asked to walk through the exhibit and was invited to do so. As he wandered through, he stopped in front of the postcard, just as we had done, and began to shake. He told them that the postcard had been written by his sister. She mailed it prior to getting on a different boat with their grandparents, a boat that never made it to Israel’s shore. It was the last piece of mail she sent, never received by her brother. They gave him the original. It was a remarkable story.

Throughout the enjoyable day, we found it difficult, if not impossible to leave the places we visited. So even though we spent more time together than originally scheduled, we saw fewer sites than planned.

We ended the day wanting the opportunity to learn more about TAF and visit more of their projects, looking forward to the upcoming dedication of a new institute of learning made possible through TAF and being dedicated in honor of Ruben Rosental’s father, z”l, and exhausted from the busy day with our fantastic hosts!

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