A Mission to Israel to Build Community Back Home

By: Jamie Simon


As a new leader in the Bay Area Jewish community, I felt intimidated this month to embark on the Irving Rabin Community Building Mission to Israel with the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation. I knew few of the 40 San Francisco Jewish executives and lay leaders joining the trip, and I wondered if it was possible to build community with them in our ten days together.


As I arrived in Israel alongside Tawonga’s Board President, Ilana Drummond, I began to connect with this incredible group of impressive and committed leaders, and I immediately felt their warmth. They welcomed me to be a part of the group, and at once, I felt at home. We spent the next 10 days bonding together and learning about the nuanced and innovative ways Israel and its brightest leaders are building lasting community.


From Dr. Micah Goodman of the Shalom Hartman Institute to Elisheva Mazya of the innovative nonprofit, New Spirit, to Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem, we came away with an inspiring narrative on how to galvanize, nurture and sustain strong and thoughtful communities. We witnessed first-hand agencies building bridges between Arabs and Jews, spurring youth projects of philanthropy and forging successful pathways to peace.


Each speaker continued to wow me. Yet oddly enough, I found that the greatest sparks of connection, inspiration and brilliance were actually taking place in between these tour visits – sitting on the bus or across the table during meals with my fellow mission travelers.


I come away from this experience deeply moved by leaders like Adam Berman of Urban Adamah, Lori Starr from the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Ruben Arquilevich of URJ Camp Newman and Varda Rabin, who generously funded the mission to honor the legacy of her late husband, Irving Rabin.


Ideas hatched to collaborate more closely between our agencies; discussions ensued over how our organizations can do better to be more inclusive for our ever-expanding Bay Area Jewish community; and deep connections formed to cement our collective commitment to ensuring a strong, thriving and diverse Jewish community back home.


I came to learn that this synergy was of course Varda’s vision for the mission, motivated by Irving’s beautiful legacy. Irving was a passionate leader whose deep love of Israel and the Jewish people inspired him to found agencies like Jewish Vocational Services and initiatives such as the Young Adult Board at the Federation. He understood the power of a strong and connected Jewish community and devoted his life to giving back to it.


It took traveling Jamie-Circleacross the world, with a backdrop of studying the most complicated nation and community-building example in history, to fully appreciate the incredible strength of our own Jewish community back home. I return inspired by Irving, by Varda and by my fellow Jewish community leaders, ready to take these learnings and connections back to Tawonga and to our broader community. With crystal clarity, I see more than ever that our community is stronger when we come together, bridging our collective wisdom toward a more inclusive and thriving Jewish community.



The Irving Rabin Community Building Mission is a pilot program of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund in partnership with Varda Rabin, with the intention of extending the program throughout the region. The goals are community building and deepening relationships among community partners.