Two women of faith from opposite corners of the world are on a mission to spread goodwill, peace and understanding to the global community, starting in West Linn.
Michelle Minch of West Linn is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (JFGP). JFGP is hosting an Israeli shelicha, an emissary handpicked to share Jewish heritage and promote an understanding of Israel and its ideals throughout the world. Through Stand With Us, an international nonprofit Israel education organization, and JFGP, Timna Rockman will be that shelicha in the Portland area through May 2017, sharing stories of her life in Israel with teens at local schools. She will share details of all aspects of life, including similarities and differences in teen life, what the culture and food are like, stories about her schooling and years in the Israeli army and more.
Rockman is a houseguest of the Minch family; and they have enjoyed eating her cooking of Israeli traditional dishes, such as shakshuka, eggs cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and spices.
Believing that education is the road to peace, Stand With Us is dedicated to educating people of all ages about Israel and combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues. They believe that knowledge of the facts will correct common prejudices about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and will promote discussions and policies that can help promote peace in the region. The focus of Rockman's work will be to share Israel's achievements and ongoing challenges with students in middle schools and high schools, on college campuses and in communities in the Portland metro area.
"The situation in Israel is complex. The story isn't black and white," Minch said. "We want to help teachers get factual information into the schools."
Rockman's motivation to work with Stand With Us is powered by the misleading information presented on American news, which she says shows just a snippet of a story.
"That isn't what my life is like," she said. "It's crazy how people judge a country without understanding."
Rockman was born and grew up in a suburb of western Jerusalem. Her mother grew up in the United States and moved to Israel after college. As a teenager, Rockman was involved in the Tzofim — the Israeli scouting program, and eventually managed more than 500 younger scouts.
After high school, she served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and as an infantry commander, trained recruits and taught them military conduct and the IDF ethical code. She is still a sergeant in the IDF Reserves. In addition to her college studies at Ben-Gurion University, Rockman runs a women's empowerment scholarship program that brings together young Jewish and Palestinian girls through sports. She is also dedicated to animal rights and volunteers as a trainer for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
The scholarship program brings young Jewish and Palestinian girls together to play soccer, and they see they are very much the same.
"It's amazing," she says of the program. "They are just having fun. The students come together to play, and then, we talk, talk about hope and our wishes for our region."
Rockman hopes her interactions with Oregon students will cause them to do their own research about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, and form opinions based on fact rather than on propaganda.
"Jews want peace with Palestine," she said. "And both sides must work together."
"As a Jew, Israel is a part of you," Minch said. "There is a sense of connection — we're all part of the tribe."
To learn more about the program, visit standwithus.com or community.jewishfederation.org.