Brothers and sisters sitting together in unity

This past Wednesday was a very unique experience as Savannah hosted a delegation of Israelis who are studying at the Israel National Defense College (INDC), a program that prepares senior Israel Defense forces staff as well as defense and government officials for senor command and management positions.

The INDC  is a leading institution that trains, shapes and empowers senior national security leadership of the State of Israel.

Visiting delegates came from the Prime Minister’s office, Israel Aerospace Industries, IDF Intelligence, Armored Corp, Navy, and Air Force.

The delegation was hosted locally by former Mayor, now State Representative, Edna Jackson who accompanied the group from 8am until 10pm.  The city certainly lived up to its nickname, The Hostess City as the “red carpet” was rolled out to the group (they were even presented a “Key to the City.”  In their 14 hours of touring, they had a tour of First African Baptist Church and were address by Rev Thurmond Tillman.  From there they went to City Hall for a breakfast hosted by the Michael Owens of the Savannah Tourism Leadership Council.  One of the highlights of the day was a briefing in the Aldermanic Chambers on “Intergovernmental Relations and the REAL (Racial Equity and Leadership) Taskforce.  The presentation was made by Former Mayor, Dr. Otis Johnson (who chairs REAL) with comments being provided by Country Commission Chair, Chester Ellis and Edna Jackson.

The group followed up the presentation with a meeting with Savannah Police Department Chief Roy Minter, Lunch with the Savannah Economic Development Authority including meeting Leigh Ryan from SEDA/World Trade Center, Robert James of Carver Bank, Savannah State President Kimberly Ballard Washington, and dr. Daryl Naylor Johnson, head of diversity at SCAD.

The group then got a break with a boat ride down the Intercoastal Waterway and then a tour of the Owens-Thomas House.

So why Savannah after they had already toured South Korea, India, and Central Europe?

The delegation was researching “What are the challenges and solutions to facilitating upward socio-economic mobility with the State of Georgia and are the challenges specific to African Americans?”

The group was asking these questions through the lens of national security.  How does poverty and equity fit in to a secure society?

Wednesday evening, our community hosted the delegation for a dinner at Congregation Mickve Israel.  Thanks to the work of Jennifer Rich, our hostess, the group was seated six to a table-half from the Israeli delegation and half from the African American community including Moncello Stewart, head of the Savannah Black Chamber of Commerce, former City Alderman, Roy Jackson, Marcus Lotson, head of the Metropolitan Planning Commission. Rev Dr’Henri Thurmond from St Paul CME Church, Chief Julie Tolbert, Chatham County Police, Mayor Van Johnson, City Manager Jay Melder, Economic Opportunity Authority CEO, Terry Tobert, Sylvester Formey, and MarRonde Lumpkin-Lotson from the Savannah Economic Development Department.

While dinner was served, it was conversation and sharing of ideas that was the focus of the evening.  The noise in the room kept rising as the conversations got more involved. 

I stood on the side on hummed to myself

Hineh mah tov unah na’im
Shevet Achim gam yachad
Behold how had and how pleasing
For brothers (people) to sit together in unity

I know that the delegation thought it was one of their most meaningful experiences of their journey. 

When we sit together, when we talk, when we share, we each realize how alike we are.  Each relationship builds another bridge of understanding.

As we recognize the “newest national holiday’” Juneteenth this week, may we learn from this group and perhaps, before too long, we will all be “brothers and sisters sitting together in unity.”

Shabbat Shalom