Three of Illinois’ most powerful women recounted their experiences visiting Israel as part of the 2017 Influential Women’s Delegation Trip facilitated by the American-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) at a lunch and panel discussion hosted by Aviv Ezra, the Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, at the Union League Club, 65. W. Jackson Blvd.

The 2017 Influential Women’s Delegation Trip invited 18 American women in the fields of politics, law enforcement, business, research and policy institutes, media, and more for a first-of-its-kind trip to Israel alongside AIFL. The trip included visits to religious and historical sites, meetings with elected officials and dignitaries, a visit to a trauma center, and more.  Illinoisans will recognize three members of the delegation: Andrea Zopp, Deputy Mayor of Chicago; Shari Runner, President and CEO of Chicago Urban League; and Susana Medonza, Comptroller of Illinois.

The trio was joined on the panel by Diana Palomar, Vice President of Community Affairs for ABC-7 Chicago, who served as moderator of the discussion.

Ezra delivered the opening statement for the festivities and afterwards spoke about the value of having prominent American women not only visit Israel but also return with a glowing report of the country’s culture, achievements, challenges, and opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships.

“What you saw today were three ladies who are very smart, very articulate, who have a lot of networking, see what they can get from Israel and then bring it back,” said Ezra. “At the end of the day, we feel that we want to connect the dots between the Midwest, Chicago specifically, and Israel, and the way to do it is to bring people from Chicago to Israel. You get people to come over, you pick their brain, and then they come back.”

Ezra said while the consult’s results are limited, initiatives like Women In Leadership create opportunities for people in America and Israel. He welcomed individuals/organizations interested in partnering with him to coordinate with his office based in downtown Chicago and reach out to him directly through social media.

“I’m more than happy to visit the South Side from any invitation that I receive,” said Ezra.

Palomar asked the ladies about all the sights and sounds from their trip which led to several spontaneous moments of laughter as well as thoughtful answers.

Medonza offered a glimpse into what the trip was like for participants by stating she has gained 17 new friends as a result of the trip. She said one of the trip-related revelations was the separation between Judaism and the Israeli people. She said there should be no debate as to whether or not any human being, regardless of background or make up, should be allowed to live and thrive.

“The Jewish people aren’t just about a religion, it’s about a people, and when you’re in Israel, you have this realization that this is more than about the people, it’s about the right for these people to exist and be able to thrive,” said Medonza.

Zopp spoke about the similarities Chicago and parts of Israel have in terms of violence. She revealed that the city intends to adopt some of the practices Israeli officials have employed as a means to address violence and trauma related to violence at home.

“As a result of the interaction between Israel and its neighbors, the bombings, the terrorism is a regular there, and in Chicago we know that we deal with internal terrorism all the time,” said Zopp. “We know that the violence that’s occurring in our neighborhoods make a real impact on those neighborhoods.”

Ezra echoed Zopp’s thoughts by discussing his country’s willingness to share tangible ideas, like how his country addresses post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, Ezra said after several conversations with Runner, a partnership with businesses owners on Chicago’s South Side may be near.

“I’m working with Shari Runner to bring a group of young African-Americans entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s who are interested in enhancing the economy on the South Side to make these solutions come about, and they will come to Israel, learn about the innovative spirit of Israel, and see what we can do together to further enhance things,” said Ezra.

To learn more about the American-Israel Friendship League, visit https://aifl.org/.

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