What Israel Means to Me: Arnold Heller

What Israel Means to Me: Arnold Heller

Here’s what the Atlanta-Ra’anana Sister Cities Committee chair has to say as we celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday.

Arnold Heller helps bring together Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Ra’anana Zeev Bieleski.
Arnold Heller helps bring together Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Ra’anana Zeev Bieleski.

I am 72 years old; Israel is 70. We have grown up together and matured into comfortable, youthful elder status.

Because of an aversion to imposed rules and authority, I am not a religious man and have been waiting my whole life for the Jewish thunderbolt to strike me. I can’t blame it on the three nice congregations I joined, the multiple talented rabbis who served me or the beautiful synagogues I prayed in: Religiosity simply did not take root.

Jewishness, though, is at the center of my being and soul, and the Jewish state has been the source for spiritual expression. This, to a degree, is what sparked my involvement in Sister Cities International programs — as a Jew, to be a light unto people and nations and help bring them together to live in peace, cooperation and prosperity.

In 1991, I became director of a secondary-level global business education program and needed international learning tools. Sharon Flexner, the chair of the Atlanta-Rio de Janeiro committee, invited me to become a member. Soon, my students were flying down to Brazil to develop friendship and trade. The program spread to four other countries and won an SCI Educational Leadership award.

In 1998, I decided it was time to bring the international business program to Israel, and a Jerusalem think tank steered me to Ostrovsky High School and its Young Entrepreneurs Program in Ra’anana (population 80,000). The mayor’s office invited us for a schmooze. I observed Zeev Bielski, a get-things-done mayor, and his efficient staff after three years of Rio’s “after the elections and Carnival.”

I knew I’d found my perfect expression of Jewish soul: building friendship and trade between the two cities, each about the ninth-largest in its country. Developing the Atlanta-Ra’anana committee as its chair has been a 20-year journey to create a lasting friendship and partnership between America and Israel, Atlanta and Ra’anana.

Arnold Heller

The empowerment from the city of Atlanta and the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs has been a great privilege. It also has been a fabulous pleasure to engage in meaningful joint programs and projects with the municipality of Ra’anana.

My Jewish soul has been nurtured beyond my best expectations by giving back to society and supporting Israel. In my own way, because of Israel, I have been self-actualized as an American Jew, and I thank G-d for that.

I hope that Israel’s existence will be eternal, not just lasting a lot longer than I do. Israel has become part of me, and that is why it is important. Happy 70th birthday.

See all the reflections on Israel’s meaning on this special anniversary.

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