The news that Sandy Springs has completed a Sister City agreement with the Western Galilee Cluster of 11 municipalities and local authorities would always be good news for the Jewish Atlanta. But amid the nearly daily reports of killings and attempted killings of Israeli civilians by terrorists, it’s great news, and our entire community, inside and outside Sandy Springs, should be happy.
The agreement is a sign of the respect and trust the Jewish and Israeli communities have earned in Georgia, and it’s a reflection that regardless of what happens in Washington or at the United Nations, Israel can rely on true friends beyond the Jewish community in the Atlanta area.
The agreement also is a reminder of the value of having the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta. Mayor Rusty Paul looked to Israel for Sandy Springs’ second Sister City arrangement, and ultimately found the Western Galilee Cluster, because of the efforts of Opher Aviran during his five years as consul general here. No matter how much affection Paul and others feel for Israel, without a helping hand to point the way and make connections, Sandy Springs might be spending its time and energy strengthening its relationship with its only other Sister City, Taicang, China.
As City Council member Andy Bauman said, Sandy Springs doesn’t enter these agreements just for show; they need to offer real benefits. The consulate and Conexx: America Israel Business Connector, among other institutions, help realize that value from a potentially symbolic relationship.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Paul said, noting that a delegation from the Galilee will be making a return visit next year. “I’m looking forward to building a long-term relationship.”
That relationship will focus on technology, medical and health care, and tourism.
While the Western Galilee Cluster, whose total population is close to Sandy Springs’, isn’t going to bring as many people to Sandy Springs and metro Atlanta as the synagogues, day schools and other residents of this area send to Israel each year, Paul said the relationship will redirect travelers from New York to Atlanta as their gateway to America. That gateway role applies for investment as well as travel.
Going the other direction, Bauman said he hopes locals visiting Israel will recognize the beauty and history of the Western Galilee and make a point to stay there rather than just drive through.
He and Paul both talked excitedly about a cave that is not yet open to the public but that was revealed when farm machinery fell through the roof and that shows evidence of human habitation going back 25,000 years.
Now that the doors are open and the relationships have begun, Bauman said surprising connections could emerge. He mentioned a Western Galilee Medical Center doctor who worked in Haiti on a humanitarian mission after the earthquake in 2010, providing a possible avenue to connect with Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, which has an active program for service in Haiti.
In general, the richest vein to tap for cooperation could be between the medical establishments. The health care experts of Pill Hill could learn a lot from Western Galilee personnel about mass casualties from disasters, whether natural or man-made.
“There’s an opportunity to engage across the ocean and to learn something from each other,” Bauman said.
If that learning includes more Americans being exposed to how special and important Israel is, so much the better.