Makom Exec Visits StL to
Wrap Up JFed's Focus Israel Effort
During a 2-day visit, Jonny Ariel spoke to groups about religious pluralism in Israel.
Jonny Ariel, executive director of Makom, played a pivotal role in the Focus Israel initiative that was launched six years ago. He came to St. Louis recently to wind up the formal process, to take a look at where we began, what has changed in terms of Israel engagement in our community and what we envision going forward.
Makom is an Israel education network within the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Focus Israel initiative was supported by Makom,Jewish Federation of St. Louis and philanthropic partners.It was designed to create stronger connections between Israel and the St. Louis Jewish community through a multi-year joint project.
Ariel held meetings with the Focus Israel Knesset Israel Congregations - Congregation Shaare Emeth, Congregation Temple Israel, United Hebrew Congregation and Congregation B’nai Amoona. He also met with the two local agencies which were also part of the effort – the Jewish Community Center and the Central Agency for Jewish Educaiton. At both sessions, Ariel discussed the hot topic of religious pluralism in Israel. In his role with Makom, which now has a solely educational arm, he offered an inside perspective on how a country that is a democracy finds a balance between politics and religion.
“St. Louis was one of the final two ‘Israel Engagement Lab’ communities and we are proud of the commitment we have made to re-imagine the place of Israel in the lives of our congregations, agencies and the community as a whole,” said Plia Cohn, Jewish Federation Israel Engagement Coordinator.
During the first year of Focus Israel, four congregations came on board. Rabbi James Bennett of Congregaton Shaare Emeth, who was named Focus Israel chair, agreed with the other congregations to develop pilot projects over a two-year period, which touched the widest range of Jews in our community. These congregations served as “lab communities” and put together teams, called “Knesset Israel.” Through a process of mapping to see where Israel is in terms of life and culture, discussions, education and professional development in St. Louis, Focus Israel began to integrate Israel into the culture of the participating congregations.
Two years ago, the JCC and CAJE joined the Focus Israel effort to step up their Israel engagement and programming.
Ariel lectures widely in his fields of interest: Contemporary Jewry, Educational Policy-Making and Experiential Education, and is an adjunct faculty member of the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University. He has taught in public school, adult education and in educational travel settings. Yonatan studied history and education at universities, and is a graduate of the Institute for Youth Leaders, and of the Jerusalem Fellows. He has served in senior policy-making positions at the Mandel Leadership Institute, the United Jewish Israel Appeal, and Melitz. YA serves on the boards of Limmud International, Hazon and the Minyan Kehilati in Har Adar, where he lives with his wife Naomi and their three children.