Bob Aronson continues to be a major influence in shaping Jewish Detroit and Michigan’s Partnership2Gether Region of the Central Galilee.
Featured photo courtesy of the Aronsons
It’s not easy to introduce Bob Aronson standing on one foot … but here goes.
As Federation’s CEO for more than 20 years and chief development officer today, Aronson continues to be a major influence in shaping Jewish Detroit and Michigan’s Partnership2Gether Region of the Central Galilee. Past president of Birthright Israel and the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and an adjunct professor of Jewish philanthropy at the University of Michigan, Aronson has set the gold standard for Jewish professional development and philanthropic leadership on the world stage.
Born in Milwaukee, a frequent flyer to Israel from his adopted city of Detroit, Aronson is never far from home in his visits to the Galilee: to Federation’s tri-city community in the Partnership Region; to Kibbutz Yifat, where he spent summers as a teen and where his grandparents are buried; to Zippori, where he draws his inspiration as an accomplished artist; and back to the roots of the Jewish people in the ancient synagogue in Zippori National Park where he exchanged vows with Lisa Schyck this past June on their Israeli “wedding tour.”
“I believe God has blessed me,” he said in his remarks to his guests at the commitment ceremony with Lisa. “God has led me here. He gave me the strength to work here, the right souls to connect with here. He made me a Jew here.”
By happenstance or by design, there couldn’t have been a better time and place for Bob and Lisa’s wedding celebration. Guests included Aronson’s sister’s family from Kiryat Tivon in Israel and members of the original Partnership Steering Committee. “We had nearly 50 guests, Israelis and Detroiters together,” Aronson said. “And, to a number, every single one came to me with stories about friendships that have continued, families who visited one another — the many ways they have interconnected and have been changed by the Partnership since its inception 25 years ago.”
Who better to officiate the ceremony than Rabbi Reut Hammer? When Aronson first met Reut and her husband, Yair, on the Partnership Steering Committee in 1994, they were secular Jews, residents of Moshav Nahalal. Today, Reut is a mother of four, a Progressive rabbi, leading a congregation of several hundred families in the Jezreel Valley. Still an active volunteer with the Partnership, she works as an organizational consultant and community developer at the Cultural Center Corporation. “Reut has completely transformed her life and the lives of her family,” Aronson said. “And, in becoming the first — and still the only rabbi in the region — she is transforming the lives of her congregants.”
About the Michigan Central Galilee Partnership
Created in 1994, the Partnership comprises Metropolitan Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids in Michigan and the municipalities of Midgal HaEmek, Nazareth Illit (now Nof Hagalil) and the Jezreel Valley in the region of northern Israel referred to as the Central Galilee. One of 46 pairings conceived by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Partnership2Gether was originally organized to support programs addressing the needs of vulnerable populations. As the Partnership has grown and the region has flourished, its focus today is to build economic, Jewish identity and educational opportunities through a variety of shared programs and cultural exchanges.
With his family history and his own personal ties to the region, Aronson is credited for the foresight that has made the Partnership a vibrant person-to-person, community-to-community exchange of talent and resources often described as a “living bridge” and considered to be a model for Federations around the country.
Amidst the reams of documents in the archives that track the creation of Federation’s Partnership, we find a simple summary statement, dated July 11, 1994, in which Aronson puts forth a passionate bid for the region;
“I’m excited about the opportunities provided by the Central Galilee Region for the Partnership. The region we call Emek Yisre’el has the right ‘feel’ for Detroit … with its well-established kibbutzim serving as the agricultural, as well as industrial core. My grandparents, Max and Chana Feingold, were founders of one of these kibbutzim. The valley has inexhaustible resources for motivating and training our high school kids, students and Jewish teachers alike. The potential for exchange with Michigan universities is tremendous.
“The Partnership will be about money, people and economic development. It requires a major investment on the part of Detroit to build long-term relationships. The Central Galilee region provides all three, so long as the Detroit Federation can rise to the challenge and commit enthusiastically to building the Partnership.
“I believe we can do it.”
Far more than even Aronson could have projected in 1994 are the ways the commitments to the Partnership have grown. According to Aronson, one of the most valued byproducts of the Partnership is its diversity. Because the demographics are so different in the communities of Nazareth, Migdal HaEmek and the Jezreel Valley, people who would never otherwise know each are now working as partners and friends in developing the region. “In my view, this is the bridge to understanding am Yisrael, the People Israel.”
Coming Full Circle
Newlywed, far from “retired,” Aronson maintains a full schedule of engagements in the community and a brisk pace at Federation. Talk to him about Israel, about the land of his grandparents’ dream and he reveals his true north, his Jewish pioneer soul. “It was my dream to have my commitment ceremony to Lisa, the woman I love, in Zippori, the place which holds so much meaning for me,” he said. “I wanted Lisa to feel what I hold in my heart for this land.”
This story first appeared on myjewishdetroit.org.