My father has been to Israel many times. One of the reasons is the city of Or Akiva. Or Akiva is a poor city in central Israel near rather wealthy areas, such as Ceaseria. The city serves as the home of many new immigrants who come to Israel, often with little money.
After Israel's founding, Or Akiva was in very poor shape. The city had an extremely high crime rate and considerable drug problems. It also lacked any viable infrastructure. The homes were in extraordinary disrepair and there was no viable sewage treatment. In fact, much of the city had raw sewage in the streets.
The American Jewish community stepped in to help. Through various methods, they contributed money to improve infrastructure and made sweeping changes in Or Akiva. And when the situation in Or Akiva stabilized, much of the community moved along to other Israel projects.
Miami stayed, realizing there was much work to be done in Or Akiva and has spent the last thirty years making widespread and incredibly significant contributions to Or Akiva. And to this day, Miami serves as Or Akiva's sister city.
For the past seventeen years, I've heard my father discuss projects related to Or Akiva. He's been involved, in one way or another, with almost every major project related to the city. And the organizations he's involved with make, not only financial contributions, but send employees to live in the city and manage the use of the contributions to address the community's needs. However, while I've heard of Or Akiva often, it had always just been the name of an Israeli city.
Today, I visited Or Akiva for the first time. I toured the older part of the city and saw some dilapidated houses that we learned were the example of how the entire city used to look. Then we went to the rest of the city.
The improvement of thirty years of investment was exponential in scale. The entire city, while still certainly having a way to go, was simply not even comparable to the dilapidated few houses that were examples of the city three decades before. Certainly, this was still a poor city, but one where investment bore hope and where its citizens discovered opportunity.
The jewel of Or Akiva is its schools. Prior to the Miami Jewish community's help, the schools in Or Akiva were some of the worst in Israel. Graduation rates were abysmal and students had very little opportunity for success.
But today they are the gem of the city. The schools are so good that the wealthy community of Ceaseria, where parents could send their children anywhere for school, send their children to Or Akiva's schools.
We went to a school for at-risk children and celebrated their completion of their year with them. The kids loved the toys we brought, but were even more enamored with the digital cameras that everyone in my group had. One even asked me if he could keep mine.
As we joked later, those kids have expensive taste!
My favorite story of Or Akiva and Miami is an older one. Or Akiva was scheduled to become a city in 2001. A Miami contingent came to Or Akiva to join the residents for this momentous occasion.
The dedication ceremony was set for commence at 4:00 p.m. on September 11, 2001.
The Miami group was loaded on their buses at 4:00 p.m. Israel time to go to the ceremony.
Then the cellphones began ringing.
When the Miami group realized what was happening---that America had been viciously attacked by terrorists---they unloaded the buses, when to a television and watched the events unfold. The Or Akiva dedication ceremony was delayed.
The residents of Or Akiva were beside themselves.
Here were these people who had provided so much help to them for over a quarter century and now their homes were under siege.
So the residents of Or Akiva did what Jews do.
They brought food.
Lots of food.
And they were there for the Jews of Miami in their hour of need.
And later that afternoon, when the time for the city's rescheduled dedication ceremony, the people of Or Akiva made clear that the ceremony could wait until another day. But the Miami group decided that the dedication was why they were there and that it was incredibly important to the people of Or Akiva.
So the ceremony went on.
And now, the Or Akiva dedication plaque reads September 11, 2001.
The Or Akiva Community Center...
A gift to Or Akiva from Miami...
Our party with the kids...
Our visit to the Tishbi winery. Such great wine!
Some shots of Ceaseria...
An unfinished sarcophogus...
More ancient ruins in Ceaseria...
The palace in the sea. The square in the middle was a freshwater pool...
Where the chariot races happened. A la Ben Hur...
The Ceaseria bathhouse false floor. Wood would be burned underneath to make a sauna...
One of the beautiful Ceaseria mosaics...
More ancient Roman ruins in Ceaseria...