Yisrael Sheli, My Israel By: Ellen Kahan Zager

 ekz_0.jpegUsing twenty-four inch square foam core puzzle pieces and their creative juices, Jewish students from across the Baltimore landscape explored their Zionism by participating in the Center for Jewish Education’s Yisrael Sheli, My Israel, A Collaborative Puzzle Art Project & Installation, the brainchild of Amalia Phillips, CJE’s Director of Israel & Overseas Education.
On April 26th, 2015 about 150 Baltimore students gathered to celebrate Israel’s 67th birthday, joyously sing Hatikvah, enjoying Israeli treats and creating their own unique puzzle pieces that reflect how they feel and what they know about Israel.
The Baltimore students were joined in spirit by students from our sister cities of Odessa, Ukraine and Ashkelon, Israel  and community professionals and lay leaders who also created their own Yisrael Sheli puzzle pieces.  
On May 17th, 2015, all of the puzzle pieces will be combined into a rich display of unity with each other and with Israel in a special installation at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
I, too, participated in the project. Currently serving as president of CJE, the sponsor of the project, on the one hand I felt it was my responsibility to participate. On the other hand, the project called to me as an artist. I could say that I was uniquely qualified to relate to the project because I’m a creative so I love to make things. I could say that I immediately and intuitively related to Yisrael Sheli because loving Israel is an unshakeable part of my identity. 
Let me be specific. Loving Israel is not part of my Jewish identity. Loving Israel is who I am. You cannot separate the Jew from the me. You cannot separate the Zionist from the rest of me. It would be like slicing open my chest and removing my heart. 
It was so much fun to be able to express how I feel, along with hundreds of kids, and a bunch of grownups, and have my one puzzle piece snap into place to become part of the whole tapestry to show how much this community stands by Ashkelon specifically and Israel wholeheartedly. 
I am in the west, but yes, my heart lies in the east. Kol hakavod to Amalia for seeing the potential that hundreds of square feet of blank foam core can be transformed into something so magnificent!

Watch a wonderful video of students making the puzzle pieces and sharing what Israel means to them.

Click here for more information about the installation on May 17th.

Originally published by the Baltimore Israel Coaliton.

CJE is an agency funded by THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. www.associated.org