A union of spirits

Labor leaders reflect on their Israel visit

labormission image
The labor delegation visiting the Kotel while spending the day in Jerusalem's Old City.

Bringing non-Jewish community leaders to Israel is a vital tool to combat antisemitism and anti-Israel activity here in Chicago. 

Thanks to the generosity of outside funders and JUF's Midge Perlman Shafton Non-Jewish Influentials Israel Missions Fund, JUF brought a delegation of organized labor union leaders to Israel this past December.

The trip was led by Dan Goldwin, Executive Director, JUF Public Affairs; Jane Charney, Assistant Vice President, JUF Local Government Affairs; Wendy Berger, Chair of JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council; and Tim Drea, Mission Chair.

During the trip, delegates connected with Israeli and Palestinian labor leaders and foreign ministry officials, visited social service agencies, and toured some of Israel's most storied and impactful religious and historic sites. 

What follows are reflections from several of the mission participants:

Tim Drea, President, Illinois AFL-CIO. 

I was honored and excited to lead the delegation, a truly a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. 

We traveled to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Israel's border with Gaza. We met Israeli Jewish, Christian, and Muslim--as well as Palestinian--labor leaders, and we heard from officials and ordinary Israelis and Palestinians about the opportunities and challenges they face. Even with the language barrier, we left knowing we had found brothers and sisters in labor who understood us--and whom we understood. 

I saw a common sense of purpose, and a drive to ensure that all workers--regardless of their religion, background, race, etc.-- were treated fairly and equitably by their employers, governments, and unions. 

One thing that truly impressed me the most was the idea of Jewish "oneness" in the homeland. Despite centuries of oppression, the Jewish people have persevered and prospered.   

Kathi Griffin, President, Illinois Education Association 

I learned about the history of this magnificent area. I found commonalities in advocating that every worker has a fair wage, is treated with respect, and can provide a good life for their family. The people, no matter their religious beliefs, work together, just as we do in the U.S. 

As an educator, our visit to Neve Hana in Kiryat Gat--part of JUF's Partnership Together region--and the work to support children touched my heart. How you treat your most vulnerable says so much about who you are. 

I feel blessed that JUF provided this experience, and I look forward to returning to Israel with my family.

Corliss King, Vice President, Transit Workers Union 556 

I left the trip understanding how complex the issues are, and felt comforted that I had a safe place to go to ask the tough questions.

I was really surprised by the level of objectivity of all involved. There was clearly an effort to present all sides of the issues and offer the latitude to draw our own conclusions. This trip challenged my understanding and preconceived notions about the region. While Israel is a world away, we found our common ground in labor and much more. 

Keith Richardson, General President, American Postal Workers Union, Local 1-Chicago 

There are three things I loved most about the trip to Israel: 

First, the opportunity to visit the Beta Israel Village, an agricultural center in Kiryat Gat that is preserving Jewish-Ethiopian heritage. At the village, the brainchild of the Hineni organization, I connected with its farmers. Their stories of how they got there really struck a nerve. It goes to show that People of Color can make it anywhere, and everywhere. 

Second, before arriving in Israel, I was often warned: "it's so dangerous." However, being there I felt no insecurities. Everyone was so nice. What an amazing country! 

Finally…to say that a kid from the West Side of Chicago possibly could've walked where Jesus did says it all for me. The whole experience was breathtaking. I look forward to when I can visit again!

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