By Joe Sterling
The planets have aligned in 2015 for Atlanta and Ra’anana, the Georgia capital’s startup Israeli sister city just north of Tel Aviv.
Mayor Kasim Reed was part of a delegation that visited the city during his trip to Israel in March, marking the first time an Atlanta mayor went to the well-scrubbed, high-tech metropolis.
Music, education, research and environmental exchanges and relationships are in the works for Ra’anana and Atlanta institutions.
“It’s a very bright future,” said Yaoz Sever, a spokesman for the Ra’anana municipality.
Ra’anana Mayor Ze’ev Bielski and Reed “have now established a great connection,” Sever said, and it “will be the cornerstone of a lot of future initiatives we want to take.”
Reed said he has made “global engagement and intercultural exchanges a focus” of his second term.
“As part of our sister cities partnership with Ra’anana, I would like to see our trade, academic and cultural links continue to prosper and grow,” he said in a statement.
That response is great news for Arnold Heller, an international business education consultant who chairs the Atlanta-Ra’anana committee.
He started, spearheaded and maintains the longstanding relationship between the cities, which began when he was teaching at North Atlanta High School.
Heller organized a student exchange with Ostrovsky High in Ra’anana in 1998. That got the ball rolling for stronger ties. Atlanta and Ra’anana became official sister cities three years later.
The sister city program, started in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower, promotes cultural, educational, business and technical exchanges — kind of a citizen diplomacy.
Since 2001, Atlanta and Ra’anana students, musicians, politicians and businesspeople have visited each other.
Conservative Congregation Shearith Israel has formed close bonds with an Israeli synagogue from the Masorti (Conservative) movement.
Atlanta has 18 sister cities, said Cedric Suzman, a mayoral appointee on Atlanta’s sister city commission and a member of the Atlanta-Ra’anana sister city committee.
He said the relationship with Ra’anana “is one of the more active on the commission.”
“It’s been continuous at a modest level of interaction,” he said.
Suzman, who is executive vice president and director of programming at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, has visited Ra’anana. He describes the city as “unique” and a “highly modern, forward-looking place.”
It’s different from the ancient cities, and it lacks the bustle of Tel Aviv, he said.
It’s a lot like going to modern parts of India such as Bangalore, the high-tech center in the south of that country, Suzman said.
In fact, just before Reed stopped by, India’s ambassador to Israel paid his own visit to Ra’anana, where he met with students and private industry.
Heller said the city, with a population of about 80,000, is known to some as Little America. Many of its residents came from New York, he said.
It is the home of many companies, including Amdocs, a software and service provider that also has an operation in Alpharetta. The city also hosts Microsoft’s head office in Israel.
Ra’anana has great parks, top schools and a successful mall, Heller said, and is reminiscent of Dunwoody or Sandy Springs.
Myrna J. Cohen, the vice chairwoman of the Atlanta-Ra’anana committee, said the cities have many common threads. “I saw it like another American city,” she said of Ra’anana. “They do everything there that we do.”
Three years ago, Rena Kahn, a member of the Atlanta-Ra’anana committee, hosted a concert by musicians from the Israeli city.
It was a success, she said — a “straight people-to-people” initiative that reflected the principles of the sister city idea.
“Better understanding of another culture,” she said. “Despite the differences of language and geography, we have very much in common.”
After Reed’s visit, Heller said, the sister city program is in a good place.
“It was like a mitzvah. Kasim Reed really did a mitzvah for the sister cities program,” Heller said. “Now we’re well-positioned. I take my hat off to him. He was a statesman.”