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'All the Dots Connect' for This Israel Advocate

July 7, 2005 By:
Zara Myers, JE Feature
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Michael Feist in Netivot
Most people ease into getting involved in an organization, but not Michael Feist, a 29-year-old, single graduate student at Temple University.

"I jumped right into the Renaissance Group," he stated, referring to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's organization for the 25- to 45-aged crowd.

What led to such involvement? It started last summer, with a trip to Israel.

Encouraged by a friend to be part of the local contingent on the United Jewish Communities Young Leadership Mission, Feist said that at first, he was iffy about going because his six traveling companions all knew one another. Plus, it was his first time going.

And he also admits to being a bit concerned that he "wasn't Jewish enough."

As he explained, "I was Bar Mitzvahed and confirmed, enjoyed holiday dinners at my Nana's, but lost touch with being Jewish when I went to college.

"However, my fears were unfounded, and now the seven of us have the trip in common, and we've forged lasting friendships."

On a four-day pre-mission stay in Netivot/Sedot Negev, Federation's Partnership 2000 community, the group went on a security tour of the area that was quickly canceled when their guide had to go to nearby Sderot to give assistance after one of that area's bombings by Palestinian terrorists.

"One of the children killed was related to the family I was staying with," recalled Feist. "Just that Shabbat evening, we had been discussing the Middle East. It's one thing if you have this kind of conversation in Philadelphia - and surreal when you have it in Israel and it's followed by a bombing.

"For me, the support we give and the bombings our Israeli friends experience made all the dots connect."

In Netivot, Feist enjoyed playing with kids at the Saligman Center, a school for youngsters with learning disabilities, and helping out at an after-school program for at-risk children. "Again, I realized: 'This is what you're paying for.' "

After joining the larger group, Feist visited Israel's Independence Hall in Jerusalem and heard a 1948 recording of David Ben-Gurion declaring independence, which prompted participants to sing "Hatikvah."

"Tears were falling everywhere," said Feist."I walked out feeling like it just happened. By the end of the trip, I felt a much stronger sense of Jewish identity."

'A Building Process'
That sense of identity and the people he met on the trip - both Americans and Israelis - "made Federation a buy-in for me at the end of the mission, and I made my first gift," he said.

In the past year, he has participated in the 2004-05 Renaissance Group's Leadership Development program, volunteered at the JCCs' Kaiserman Branch, packed and delivered groceries for the Jewish Relief Agency, and participated in the Renaissance shift for Super Sunday. He also attended the UJC Young Leadership Conference in Atlanta this spring, and is a member of its Ben-Gurion Society, a national recognition society for those who give $1,000 or more to the annual campaign.

Born and raised in Daytona Beach, Fla., Feist, who formerly worked in Information Technology for Aramark for eight years, will get his MBA in human resources in December. Other volunteering includes PhilAbundance and Big Brothers. He still helps to coordinate Aramark 's annual golf tournament for the American Cancer Society to honor his mother, Paula Sacks, a cancer survivor.

"I've only been active for a year," he said, "but I know working with Renaissance for the Jewish community is in my long-term plans."

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