I'm back in Connecticut, sitting at my desk, trying to absorb the adventure of the past two weeks. I return enriched, energized and filled with a new-found love for this beautiful region in Israel and the inspirational people I met who are making an impact on the lives of so many. Before my trip, I would refer to Afula as a "resource-scarce" area. Now I know I was doing this region a terrible disservice. Yes, there is need in Afula, and yes, there are plenty of organizations that rely on the support of donors like ourselves to provide life-saving resources. But that just scratches the surface. Afula-Gilboa is filled with so much beauty - from the expansive views from Gilboa Mountain and Mt. Tabor, to the lovely kibbutzim and moshavim that dot the area. There's downtown Afula, that sparkles at night with its canopy of lights, where you can eat the most delicious falafel at Golani and talk to local shopkeepers that are warm and real. It's a place where you can sit in a town square by the fountains and watch children playing and people gossiping over coffee. It's a place where delicious food is found in gas-station cafes as well as in the high-end restaurants like the Spice Farm, where I dined on a fabulous meal of leek and eggplant patties and cauliflower in tehina. It's a place where you drive and around every corner, you see a different landscape that is more magical than the one before. I had the opportunity to experience making nana tea and eating Arabic knaiffe on Mt. Tabor while wild cows cavorted in the background. But I also toured the factory on Kibbutz Yizre'el, which is the world's leading manufacturer of robotic pool-cleaners. It's an area filled with surprises, waiting to be uncovered.
A highlight for me was reuniting with our former emissaries. One evening, we held a Mega Event in a local community center to celebrate the 20th year of the Young Emissary program, which began right here in our community. The event featured a series of mini TED talks by former emissaries, who explained how their year in Southern New England has influenced their lives. The room was filled with more than 125 former emissaries - many of whom are IDF officers or movers and shakers in their fields. As I looked around the room, I felt a sense of satisfaction that we have created a program that not only continues to strengthen our living bridge with Israel, but has also nurtured a group of leaders ready and willing to effect positive change. Take a look at the wonderful memories our host families and emissaries have shared in our photo album here, or search #snecemissarylife on Instagram and Facebook to see faces I am sure you will remember.
As I process these past two weeks, the main message I want to share is: VISIT. Support Israel with your feet. Tour our partnership area. Stay for a few days in the guest house on Kibbutz Yizre'el, which is available to our community free of charge. Leave the word "tourist" behind and meet our former emissaries and partners, who will welcome you as family. Let them show you the beauty of Israel through their eyes. I promise, it will make your heart sing.