Group promotes revitalized ties to sister city Ashkelon
By Polina Olsen
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An effort to revitalize Portland’s sister city relationship with Ashkelon, which was created in 1988, is gaining momentum after being dormant for the past eight years.
A small group has elected interim officers, planned exploratory trips to Israel and discussed future events and exchanges.
Located on the Mediterranean coast just north of Gaza and 36 miles south of Tel Aviv, Ashkelon was capital of Canaanite kings and was conquered by the Philistines. Ashkelon is perhaps best known as the place Delilah cut Sampson’s hair.
Tamar Boussi, the interim president is enthusiastic: "Israel is the most misunderstand country on the planet. This is an opportunity to understand the day-to-day life-what Israelis are really like outside of war."
Boussi noted that the Ashkelon Sister City project complements the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s relationship with nearby Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon, a relationship that originated under the Partnership 2000 initiative of United Jewish Communities. Though JFGP is no longer part of the Partnership 2000 consortium, it has continued to fund individual projects in the region.
When Portland’s sister city relationship with Ashkelon started in 1988, Judith Kahn was the first president.
"Rabbi (Joshua) Stampfer had the idea of the sister city," she said. "He knew the rabbi and mayor."
"I took a tour group to Ashkelon that year," recalled Stampfer, who was originally approached by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. "We signed papers in the Sukkah. After that, our tour groups were always welcomed by the mayor’s office."
With an emphasis on cultural exchange, successful past projects included bringing the Hora Ashkelon dancers to Portland and hosting the 1989 Israeli/U.S. Sister City convention.
"The U.S. Sister City convention was in Portland, and the Israeli group was a sub-conference," said George Dikeman, a pastor at Beaverton’s Four Square Church and three-time president of the Portland/Ashkelon Sister City Association.
About 29 U.S. cities with Israeli sister cities were represented, according to Dikeman.
Ron Appelbaum, another past president, said the group sponsored a Native American Pow-wow at the MJCC and an Ashkelon eye doctor’s studies at the Casey Eye Institute.
Other projects had difficulties.
"The group had funding to bring the Jefferson dancers to Ashkelon but had trouble getting Portland’s city government behind it," said Dikeman.
"In Portland, sister cities are driven by volunteers," he said. "In Ashkelon, it’s the opposite-everyone is on staff at the city. Ashkelon wants to see a political structure in order to take the relationship seriously. Tom Potter is enthusiastic and I believe he’s internationally oriented."
Lack of political will was one reason the effort faded; lack of people was another.
"Our organization lost people who could follow through and do the work, and so did the city," said Kahn.
Both Boussi and Dikeman plan visits to Ashkelon in October and hope to bring back and solidify future exchanges. Both cities have strong high tech and tourist sectors, immigrant populations, security issues and interest in sports. Israel founded drip-irrigation, which could benefit Northwest farmers, and both regions share an interest in wine production.
"Whatever can be done to establish people-to-people relationships
is helpful," said Stampfer.
Bob Horenstein, who staffs the overseas allocation subcommittee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Overseas, agrees.
"Anything we can do to promote a stronger relationship between U.S. and Israel complements the Federation’s work," he said.
Meanwhile, Boussi has dreams of her own.
"An effort to develop a sister city park (in Portland) is under way and they want the driveway lined with flags," she said. "Wouldn’t an Israeli flag flying look beautiful?"
The next Ashkelon Sister City meeting is Sept 18. For more information, contact Tamar Boussi 971-219-4454; tamarboussi@Comcast.net.