In America, turning 21 is a landmark. It is often referred to as "coming of age." Until then, drinking, gambling and -- in some states -- marrying without parental consent, are illegal.
Reaching 21 in Israel is less "magical." Most have completed their military service, have been drinking legally their whole lives (and purchasing it themselves since 18), and are closer to marriage, on average, than their American Jewish counterparts.
The "ho-hum" Israeli attitude to anything turning 21 years of age was apparent last month. Some 16 Chicagoans, members of JUF's Partnership Together Steering Committee, spent four days in the Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir region. This group travels there twice a year to oversee implementation of earlier grants and vet new proposals, and to reconnect with their Israeli counterparts, some of whom have been members of the Israeli half of the Steering Committee since the Partnership began in 1996.
So, for those of you doing the math at home, this June site visit marked the 21st year for this special partnership between the people of Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir and a very devoted cadre of JUF donors.
But the fact that it was a 21st birthday went entirely uncommented upon. A total non-issue. Perhaps that's because the Partnership, on the personal and philanthropic levels, has matured well beyond what is typically associated with "coming of age."
The Partnership's accomplishments are many:
- JUF itself has allocated more than $30 million -- and facilitated millions more from foundations and bar/bat mitzvah projects -- toward programs that uplift the region's most vulnerable members and provide unique people-to-people experiences and life-long friendships;
- Kiyat Gat's mayor since 2003, Aviram Dahari, presented the Partnership (along with Intel) with the city's highest award for community impact in connection with its 60th birthday celebrations;
- Spawned marriages, business ventures, aliyah and many hours of volunteer efforts;
- Engaged thousands of Jews reflecting the vibrant diversity of both communities -- young and old, religious and secular, , sabras , (native-born Israelis) and olim (new immigrants), urban and rural, Ethiopians and Moroccans, JUF "veterans" and "rookies," and even Sox and Cub fans (though the Israelis heavily favor the Bulls), and;
- Strengthened the resiliency, social integration, English-language skills, upward mobility and educational achievement of the region's more than 60,000 residents.
Much impact has been realized in 21 years. And the best is yet to come.
If you're seeking people-to-people ties with typically extraordinary Israelis, are willing to see Israel beyond the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor, are seeking to have a direct voice in about a million dollars in Israel, and have fun doing it, this Partnership is for you.
Just don't expect any over-the-top 22nd birthday bashes.
Jay Tcath is executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.