Professional & cultural exchange program for social workers and youth workers

Council of International Fellowship-United States of America

Anne K. Cohn, LCSW-C

More Than a "Tourist Experience"

I had been waiting for many years to find the right opportunity to visit Israel. In December 2013, I was fortunate to have discovered the Council of International Fellowship through the newsletter of my professional organization, National Association of Social Workers (NASW). As I read the information about the program and its focus, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity for me to meet Israeli social workers and learn about their work within a country that has known conflict for many years.

The program was carefully thought out, planned, and implemented. I was hosted by an amazing group of social workers who functioned as some of the best social workers I have ever met in my career. In addition, on a more personal level, I was warmly welcomed and given a perspective of the Israeli country and culture that no “tourist experience” could match.

My journey with CIF-Israel began in Tel Aviv where I was given an overview of the city, including the fascinating part called Jaffa, which is an old, intriguing section of the more modern Tel Aviv. We then set out for East Jerusalem where we were escorted by a most knowledgeable guide who shared with us the challenges of the Israeli Arab community. The weekend continued with our introduction to the members of the Israel CIF at their staff meeting. We heard about the work they perform in Israel, and I had the opportunity to share my experiences as an American social worker working both in the U.S. and Europe.

It was most interesting to visit the various social service agencies in many areas of Israel, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ra’anana, Haifa area, as well as a Kibbutz that offers people with special needs a center for creativity. I especially enjoyed that we met with both Jewish and Arab social workers and learned about the needs and challenges in both communities.

For me, as a Jewish person, one of the highlights of the program was that I was fortunate to see the Holocaust Remembrance evening ceremony on the grounds of the Yad Vashem memorial. It was one of the most poignant events in which I had ever participated. The next day I returned to visit the Yad Vashem memorial itself and was equally moved. The timing of the program was wonderful, as a few days later it was the celebration of the 66th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel and I was hosted by an amazing Israeli family with their historic roots in Yemen. I participated in a joyous celebration complete with music, enormous amounts of barbecue food, and great conversations.

All throughout the program we were received warmly, not only by our host families, but also from the various staff of the agencies we visited. My impression was that the staff with whom we shared experiences were extremely dedicated to serving all of the people and families who make up the various communities within Israel. I was especially impressed with the social workers in the Defense Ministry who work with the families of fallen soldiers. Many of the staff have been doing this work for a number of years. It is a testament to their resiliency and commitment that they continue with this difficult but essential service.

When it came time to depart, I was so grateful that I had this opportunity to visit the land that has much meaning for me and to now add the CIF members to my list of good friends.