Embracing Differences, Celebrating Similarities

Guest Correspondence


I recently had the privilege of joining a diverse group of 20 leaders and representatives from our community on an inspiring yet humbling trip to Israel. The Interfaith Community Leader Mission, organized by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, took us on a terrific journey to explore the incredible history of Israel as well as experience it in the modern day to understand the importance of the land, culture, people and economy while incorporating the perspective of the world’s three predominant monotheistic faiths represented: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.    

The itinerary included a tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, a visit to Masada on the cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea, hiking through Ein Gedi and its waterfalls that lay amongst the desert, visiting Northern Israel and the various Christian landmarks on the Sea of Galilee, and a poignant experience at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

It was incredibly moving to see the numerous ties Sarasota shares with Israel, as we visited Tel Mond, one of our Sister Cities and one that is strongly supported by our chapter of the Jewish Federation. I was particularly moved to witness first-hand the global reach of Betty Schoenbaum’s philanthropy as we saw the Alex and Betty Schoenbaum Library, which opens its doors to students of the region. We also met with business and educational leaders to share ideas and discuss the impact we are each making in our own communities. The universal commitment to making the lives of people in our communities better was shared amongst all in the room.

Attending an Embracing Our Differences – Israel opening reception in Tel Aviv showcased additional connections between Sarasota and Israel with its support by the our local Embracing Our Differences nonprofit and the Jewish Federation. In its fourth year, it is growing and highlights Arab, Jewish and Christian student artists, sponsored by the Daniel Centers, founded by Sarasotan Gerry Daniel. Visiting Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem highlighted efforts by this network of schools in Israel to understand each other better as it brings together Jewish, Muslims and Christian students in a school where each classroom is staffed by an Arab and Jewish teacher, speaking Hebrew and Arabic.

As I continue to process all I experienced and learned on the trip, I kept coming back to a philosophy former South African Ambassador James Joseph, a dear friend of the Community Foundation, has shared:  “I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.”  

At our Foundation, we believe each of us has the potential to impact another person, a cause a community.  As we value each other and search for ways to move our community forward, the ability for each of us to use all our influences for what we are passionate about will continue to make Sarasota even stronger and more vibrant. Ambassador Joseph also notes the ‘variety of capital’ we all possess for positive change, as I paraphrase:        

  • Social:  tapping into our networks to connect;
  • Moral:  being true to our values;
  • Intellectual:  using our smarts to problem solve;
  • Reputational:  utilizing our character and creditability;
  • Financial:  drawing on our monetary resources.

Witnessing the efforts happening in Israel to understand each other better, asking and listening, and the critical role of relationship building gives me hope for a brighter future in a complex and complicated local and international world. As we go about our lives, take some time to reflect and recognize the opportunities you have to use your ‘capital’ to encourage positive change to make our community and beyond even stronger. As always, thank you for being the one to make a difference.

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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