In light of what’s transpiring in the Middle East, this article about Sister Cities Association of Sarasota focuses on our relationship with Tel Mond, Israel. The only democracy in the Middle East could be in mortal danger. Heaven forbid that we might lose our wonderful sister.
Tel Mond settlement was founded in 1929. Named after Alfred Mond, a Zionist from Great Britain, there was nothing but sand, sand, and more sand. For years there were only citrus groves and very few settlers, most of whom came from Eastern Europe.
When Israel was born in 1948, a second wave of exiled immigrants arrived by virtue of Operation Magic Carpet. This time Sephardic Jews were forced from Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. Still the community was not an attractor to others. However, in 1985, Prime Minister Menachem Begin initiated a program with United States and Canadian Jewish federations called Project Renewal. Over the next 14 years, Jewish communities of southwest Florida became actively involved in Tel Mond’s development.
Initially many Sarasota residents were involved in funding various projects in Tel Mond. Betty and Alex Schoenbaum contributed funds to build a library and Goldie Feldman turned a bomb shelter into a day center for seniors. Sarasotan Selma Sheldon created a Foundation for Children in Tel Mond which Jennie Jones and later Linda Rosenbluth chaired from this side of the pond.
Several exchanges and dialogues between our two cities concreted the relationship and, according to Rosenbluth, Mayor David Merrill insisted that a formal “marriage” occur—becoming our fifth sister city pact. (Although Merrill denies shoving the issue, give him credit anyway; what Rosenbluth says is un-debatable.)
In 1989 members of the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation, the Rosenbluths, Commissioners Nora Patterson and Gene Pillot traveled to Tel Mond to formally sow the seeds. Israeli mayor, Shlomo Ratzabi who is still Mayor, later arrived in Sarasota to sign the connection.
As Rosenbluth ascended to the presidency of SCAS, exchanges grew exponentially. Smadi Dromy, the Tel Mond chair for over ten years, is considered a member of the Rosenbluth family and vice versa.
Tel Mond is one of our most active sister cities. Florida Studio Theater sent a team to encourage students to enter their “Write a Play” contest and several have won the competition and visited us to receive their awards. They also participate in Embracing Our Differences Photo Contests and Art Exchanges and have sent their Sabra singing groups and NOOA dancers to perform here.
Two years ago, I had the pleasure of traveling with the Rosenbluths, Sue Rosin, and Commissioner Ken Shelin to breathe the flavor of Israel. Never having been there, it was such a thrill to see my Jewish heredity’s homeland. We were driven to Jerusalem to see the Wailing Wall and then Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. Shelin practically had to carry me out of that museum of atrocities, as emotional as I became. Later at our visit to an elementary school, a 12 year old student took us into a room devoted to photos and remembrances of Tel Mond families’ relatives who survived the Nazi death camps and too many who did not. I asked the young lady why they would have such an upsetting display permanently in the school; her response, “Our generations must ‘Never Forget!” Chills ran up and down my spine.
Our entire delegation attended the Sister Cities International Convention in Jerusalem where we befriended numbers of caring and sharing delegates from cities all over the world. The entire trip was one of the saddest and happiest of my life.