Blog 2

November 3rd, 2016

Note: A delegation of Latino Opinion and Policy Leaders is in Israel with AJC Project Interchange and AJC Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs (BILLA). BILLA Director Dina Siegal Vann is accompanying the delegation in Israel, with participants blogging about their experiences in Israel.

Today’s blog was submitted by Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, City Councilmember representing the 7th Council District in eastern North Philadelphia.

A Puerto Rican Councilperson’s first impressions on her arrival to Tel Aviv at the beginning of our week in Israel:

I represent the most gerrymandered council district in the country. This means a large Latino barrio, an historic African-American community, a huge Palestinian Arab Muslim business community, and a second generation Russian speaking Jewish community. The district was gerrymandered to insure that someone like me would never get elected. However, it was exactly that humble migrant background that helped me relate to this very diverse district.

I have a profound relationship with the extended Muslim community and have worked hard to build a strong bond with them.

Over my career, I have received very strong support from the local Jewish leadership. Unlike the political establishment, they embraced my independent candidacy and helped propel me to my historic election as the first Puerto Rican Latina elected as a District Councilperson in Philadelphia.

For this reason, I was beyond excited when offered the opportunity to visit Israel by the American Jewish Committee with a cohort of Latino leaders through AJC Project Interchange. My good Jewish friends offered some readings, but mainly asked me to be open to the experience.

As I write this, I am on day three of a six day exploration trip.

Tel Aviv is clearly a first class metropolitan city! I am very impressed by the sophisticated level of development, the infrastructure, the educational system, and the incredible investment interest by international investors.

Clearly, Israelis are brave people who have rooted themselves and are building a strong values-based society.

I attentively listen to our very distinguished guests from all sectors describe the conditions of the State of Israel–within its own native community and the immigrants who join them, who, along with the native Arab Palestinian population, work in an evolving modern Israel. Peace and safety is a top priority.

I paraphrase our fabulous first speaker:Dr. Einat Eilf, “If after I make my presentation, I leave you with more questions than answers, I have fulfilled my role to introduce you to Israel.”

After listening to business leaders, visiting the Holy Land, sharing with Arab women who lead an empowerment farm, seeing the grandeur of the Sea of Galilee, and sharing with the most intense military general, I continue to be impressed by the valor and passion of the people of Israel. In every sector, with every step, Israel is the most focused, deliberate nation I have ever experienced.

But I still have more questions than answers.

Is there such a thing as integration and open immigration?

How can they have peace, when they live in fear of chaos?

How do we create a state of peace, diversity, and democracy?

I believe Israel is an incubator of the world and a demonstration of what we can potentially achieve when we seek spiritual greatness for all.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.