From Our CEO
Traveling With Mayor Adams in Israel
August 25th, 2023

When the mayor of the city that never sleeps travels to Israel, we can squeeze two weeks of content into two and a half days — particularly when the mayor is the famously indefatigable Eric Adams.

UJA funded and helped organize Mayor Adams’s whirlwind trip, his first as mayor, in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council. Our aim was to introduce the mayor to Israeli leaders, explore technological developments that might have applications in New York, and strengthen our shared commitment to fighting antisemitism. We also wanted to introduce the mayor to our extensive work in Israel building bridges between diverse communities, another issue with enormous relevance to us as New Yorkers.

Israel’s foreign office quite literally rolled out the red carpet, welcoming the mayor of New York — the second largest center of Jewish life in the world — almost as a head of state. For his part, Mayor Adams came eager to make the most of every sight and every interaction.

On the first night, we were joined by religious leaders representing some of the diverse faiths in Israel: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze. Each offered a blessing, which the mayor graciously received.

In turn, Mayor Adams asked the leaders to not only be worshippers of their faith but active practitioners, to step out of their synagogues, churches, and mosques and be the force for change we desperately need. He asked how we would answer our grandchildren if they were to ask “Where were you? What did you do?” when the world was in such a state of upheaval.

We didn’t shy away from facing the very hard issues currently consuming Israeli society. The mayor met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and separately with leaders of the judicial reform protest movement, as well as many other leaders on both sides of the current conflict.

Over dinner, we introduced the mayor to a group of inspiring UJA grantees that are finding new ways to work for and with disadvantaged populations, creating education and job opportunities.

UJA Federation of New York >> <p>Dinner with the mayor and representatives from diverse UJA-supported nonprofits.</p>

Dinner with the mayor and representatives from diverse UJA-supported nonprofits.



At the extraordinarily diverse table sat representatives who work with Haredi Jews, Ethiopian olim, Arab Israelis, Ukrainian immigrants, Palestinians, and more. One remarkable initiative, Tech2Peace, brings together Palestinians and Jews for high-tech training alongside conflict-resolution dialogue. Sharing how the program changed his life, Adnan Awni Jaber, a Palestinian born in East Jerusalem, explained how he grew up believing Jews were dangerous, an idea that was reinforced because he never knew a Jew on a personal level. Then, he saw an ad on Facebook for Tech2Peace, which appealed to his interest in working in the tech sector. The experience completely altered his worldview. In his words, he came for the tech — but he stayed for the peace.

Hearing these words felt like a response to the mayor’s call to action from the previous evening: How are you building a better world for your grandchildren, the mayor had asked us.

Here was our answer: investing in programs that bring together people willing to rise above difference to find common ground for the future of Israel.

We also arranged for the mayor to meet with some of Israel’s most cutting-edge innovators. One company showed us drones that can fly into buildings in distress (during a fire or in the aftermath of an explosion, for example) and assess the damage in real time.

Another demonstrated how AI technology can be harnessed to change traffic light patterns, also in real time, reducing congestion and maximizing traffic flow. We tasted plant-based prosciutto — which I (being kosher) was reliably informed tasted very much like the real thing — prepared by a food tech company that is focusing on creating environmentally friendly food. Beyond the health and economic benefits, this is where Israel’s “tech diplomacy” plays out: by leading the way in solving food supply issues for other countries.

Despite the general sense of optimism that pervaded the trip, it was impossible to ignore the political crisis that has consumed Israel for months.

Mayor Adams understands well how it weighs on us. In his two and a half days, he had stood at the Kotel. He had laid a wreath at Yad Vashem. He had met with some of the visionaries who are propelling the country forward. And of course, he leads a city known for wrestling with seemingly intractable issues.

And so he provided an optimistic frame — which, please God, will come to pass — that can be summed up like this:

Has there ever been a time when Israel wasn't severely challenged?

You've built an extraordinary oasis in the desert surrounded by enemies on all sides.

You are the eternal people.

Hold steady. Have faith. You will overcome.   

Shabbat shalom from Tel Aviv