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New 'Life-Transforming' Program Works to Develop Advocates for Israel

June 4, 2009 By:
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Harris Devor

Israel and Jewish studies are two of Harris Devor's greatest passions. "I have considered myself a Zionist since I was a kid," Devor says, noting that Israel's Six-Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria "motivated my life-long commitment to the safety and security of our Jewish homeland."

Federation's Philadelphia Israel Scholars Program, which Devor chairs, presents a "golden opportunity" for Devor to share his passions with men and women who will build upon their love for and knowledge of Israel, and enhance their effectiveness as Israel advocates both locally and globally.

When Jeri Zimmerman, director of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas and Asaf Romirowsky, Federation's manager of Israel and Middle East Affairs approached Devor to spearhead this year-long Israel study and travel initiative, he jumped at the opportunity.

Devor, who was raised as an observant Jew, viewed this as "my chance to apply the leadership skills and intensive background in traditional texts and contemporary Jewish issues that are the hallmarks of the Wexner Heritage Program experience."

Devor participated in this two-year "life-transforming" program in 1990.

He noted that he felt honored to be among the 1,500 individuals from 31 North American Jewish communities selected for this prestigious Jewish literacy and leadership training designed to create a bank of committed, educated leaders for Jewish communal organizations and agencies. Devor credited the high-level scholars and lecturers that the Wexner Foundation provided for "re-energizing his love for studying Jewish text and renewing his commitment to life-long Jewish learning."

Before Devor begins his workday at Shechtman Marks Devor PC, where he serves as Shareholder-in-Charge of Litigation Support and Securities and Exchange Commission Consulting Services, he reads articles about Israel and the Middle East from 10 news sources.

"These issues," he said, "have a real impact on the Jewish people and prepare me to make a clear, convincing case for Israel."

This is Devor's best hope for the men and women who met in April for the Philadelphia Israel Scholars premiere program -- to prepare them to become articulate advocates for Israel.

"During the opening session in my office, we shared dinner and enjoyed a chevruta-style discussion and debate about traditional and contemporary Jewish issues."

The session also provided an opportunity for Devor to state his personal case for Israel.

"As Israel fares, so fare all the Jews throughout the world; there simply is no other place for Jews to go," he said.

One of the most important lessons that Devor learned from his Wexner involvement is the need to integrate past, present and future.

"You cannot lead effectively without a thorough knowledge of Torah and Talmud, and an understanding of how other Jewish communities throughout the ages successfully addressed issues, concerns and challenges," he said.

Daniel Bacine, Jeffrey Barrack, John Cohn, Neil Cooper, Harris Devor, David Edman, Matthew Handel, Paula Joffe, Francine Lipstein, Bryna Scott Silver and Craig Snider are all members of this first class of Philadelphia Israel Scholars. They will meet bimonthly, learning from noted experts on Israel and Mideast issues, and will travel to Israel next winter to participate in the 10th annual Herzliya Conference. Hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center -- a private Israeli university -- the conference attracts Israel's prime minister, president, the Israeli army chief of staff and other key government leaders in a discussion of national and foreign-policy issues.

Devor noted an interesting tidbit from his first trip to Israel in 1978. The managing partner of Price Waterhouse Company asked Devor, a staff accountant, to work in the firm's Tel Aviv branch office for six months.

"I was the only guy on staff with audit experience who spoke Hebrew," he said.

He jumped, quite literally at the opportunity. During his time away from work, he shot hoops at the basketball court of a local park -- the same park where Hapoel Tel Aviv, one of Israel's top-ranked professional teams, practiced. Devor said that he starting working out with them and was asked to join the team. Although tempted by the offer, his love for his girlfriend back in America -- now wife, Debra -- and the promise of a rewarding accounting career brought him home.

He has returned to the Jewish homeland more than 10 times since this initial trip, often in the company of his wife and daughters, Elizabeth and Rachel. Both children have inherited their father's passion for Israel, participating in travel and study programs. Devor counts among his closest friends many of those in the highest offices of the Israeli government who also studied in the Wexner Program in Israel.

Devor traveled to Washington in May for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The event attracts more than 6,000 community and student activists from around the United States, as well as members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and Israeli and American policymakers and thought leaders. He has been active in AIPAC for many years, and currently serves on the Philadelphia Leadership Network Board.

While Devor's chairmanship of the Philadelphia Israel Scholars Program marks his debut in a Federation leadership role, he is no stranger to Jewish communal involvement. He is a past president of the Gershman Y, a branch of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia, and has served on the board of both Gershman and the JCCs for 20 years.

Devor also takes pride in his selection as 2008 Person of the Year by Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, where he has served as an officer and a synagogue board member for more than two decades.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Israel Scholars Program, call Jeri Zimmerman at 215-832-0553 (e-mail: jzimmerman@jfgp.org).


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