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Speaker Welch, members of leadership team to trave to Middle East

Photo caption: (from left to right): David Golder, Jewish United Fund, Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Judge Shawnte Raines-Welch, Counsel General Yinam Cohen and his wife, and Rep. Bob Morgan and his wife Sonya. Shabbat dinner at the Counsel General’s home last Friday.

Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and members of his leadership team will travel to Israel and Palestine from Aug. 31 until Sept. 9. The delegation will be led by the Jewish United Fund (JUF) and make stops at some of the most impactful religious and historic sites in the region.

This trip, which follows similar successful recent missions by labor and Latino leaders, will allow the delegation to connect with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as foreign ministry officials and others, to better understand and learn about the complexities of the Middle East.

“As Speaker of the House, I have prioritized building and strengthening relationships both at home and abroad,” said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. “The bilateral relationship between Illinois and Israel is strong, and this once-in-a-lifetime learning experience will allow myself and my leadership team the chance to learn more about Israelis, Palestinians, and the fascinating history of this area. I look forward to building lasting relationships and getting a firsthand look at how Israel and Palestine approach some of the same issues we face in Illinois.” 

“We are honored that Speaker Welch and 10 members of his leadership team and senior staff agreed to travel to Israel with us,” said Daniel Goldwin, the Executive Director of Public Affairs for JUF/Jewish Federation of Chicago. “We hope that our meetings will result in increased cooperation and dialogue between Israelis and Illinoisians on issues important to both communities, including mental health, welcoming immigrants, and access to healthcare. There is no better way to begin to understand the complexities of the Middle East than to experience them firsthand. Just over seven days on the ground is not nearly enough time to explore all narratives and stories in full detail, but it will be enough to give our delegation a deeper understanding of what Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths and Palestinians are hoping and working for, and how they are doing so.”

“It’s a privilege to help strengthen the ties that join Illinois with Israel as well as meet with foreign leaders to deepen our understanding of the people of a region with whom we share so much,” said House Majority Leader Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston). “A direct look at the political and cultural complexities of a major trading partner is an issue of economic significance for all Illinoisans, as well as a thought-provoking experience I will profoundly value.”

“Joining this delegation is a great opportunity to experience first-hand the rich culture and deep complexity of this historic region,” said Majority Conference Chair Theresa Mah- (D-Chicago). “I welcome the meetings with our gracious hosts as a chance to learn as much as possible, both as a citizen and as a lawmaker. A well-rounded worldview will provide an important foundation for the work we do in the General Assembly to build a stronger Illinois.”

“There is no closer ally to Israel than the United States, and Illinois plays a significant role in this alliance,” said Yinam Cohen, the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest. “The Illinois-Israel partnership has grown significantly over the past several years. Together with our local partners, we work to generate more business collaborations between the Land of Lincoln and the Start-Up Nation in agricultural, water, food, medical and even quantum technologies. On the community level, Israeli models and expertise are supporting the work that local community organizations are already doing. I am confident that Speaker Welch’s delegation to Israel will considerably strengthen these partnerships.”

Leaders joining the trip include:

·     Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch

·     Majority Leader Robyn Gabel

·     Speaker Pro Tempore Jehan Gordon-Booth

·     Assistant Majority Leader Kam Buckner

·     Deputy Majority Leader Lisa Hernandez

·     Assistant Majority Leader Camille Lilly

·     Majority Conference Chair Theresa Mah

·     Deputy Majority Leader Natalie Manley

·     Rep. Bob Morgan, Co-Chair IL Legislative Jewish Caucus and Asst. Majority Whip

·     Tiffany Moy, Chief of Staff

·     Jaclyn Driscoll, Spokesperson

·     Ofer Bavly, Director General, JUF Israel Office

·     David Golder, Board Chair, JUF/Jewish Federation of Chicago

·     Dan Goldwin, Executive Director of Public Affairs, JUF/Jewish Federation of Chicago

·     Linda Haase, Senior Assoc. V.P., Marketing Communications, JUF/Jewish Federation of Chicago

·     Judy Smith, Gov. Affairs Committee Chair, JUF/Jewish Federation of Chicago

·     Amy Zimmerman, Asst. V.P., State Gov. Affairs, JUF/Jewish Federation of Chicago

·     Hani Zusman, Project Manager, Israel Office, JUF/Jewish Federation of Chicago

Itinerary highlights from JUF:


Israel’s Trauma and Resiliency Center is an apolitical, internationally recognized and awarded non-profit, with over 25 years of experience in the fields of resiliency building and trauma treatment. NATAL’s reach includes veterans, law enforcement personnel, educators, first responders, community and business leaders, families, and faith leaders. The result is healthier communities and society at large, with maximized employability and increased performance amongst workforces. NATAL has a presence in Chicago at Bronzeville’s TURN Center, led by Pastor Chris Harris at Bright Star Community Outreach.

·  Following COVID, mental health issues have been a primary challenge facing schools, parents, children, lawmakers, community organizations, law enforcement, etc. The delegation will be visiting with and learning from NATAL about their processes and strategies for dealing with mental health challenges to see what we can learn and bring home to Illinois.

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center-Ichilov

Ichilov is the largest acute care facility in Israel, treating about 400,000 patients and hosting 1.8 million patient visits per year. A 1,500-bed world-class governmental academic medical center, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center serves a population of one million people, including residents from the greater Tel Aviv area and visitors to the metropolis.

·  During the visit to the medical center, the delegation will get a better understanding of Israel’s universal healthcare system, how COVID-19 was handled, how the hospital is addressing mental health challenges, and more.

Peres Center for Peace and Innovation

The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, one of Israel’s leading non-profit NGOs, develops and implements unique and cutting-edge programs in Innovation, Sports, Cultivation of Leadership and Entrepreneurship, Health, Business, and Environment. These flagship programs serve hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of all ages, religions, and genders, and are implemented with a network of local, regional, and international partners.

·  The delegation will explore different forms and models of technical and policy innovation, shared society programming, and innovations for at-risk youth.

Neve Hana

The 125 children and youth (over 80 removed from their homes by court order) that live in Neve Hana have gone through traumatic experiences in the past within their families. Many of them experienced physical and/or mental abuse/neglect, sexual exploitation as well as economic hardship, sometimes to the point of abject poverty. Neve Hana, which is also in Kiryat Gat, is designed to provide these children with a warm and supportive home, to help them overcome their past experiences, to educate them, and to teach them concepts of mutual respect and tolerance.

·  While visiting Neve Hana, the delegation will see and learn how children are cared for, build resiliency, and how they are prepared to live productive and independent lives.

Mansour Abbas is an Israeli Arab politician and Member of Knesset, the parliament in Israel. He is currently the leader of the United Arab List and represents the party in the Knesset. He was appointed as the chair of the Special Committee on Arab Society Affairs in the Knesset in 2021. Abbas was the first Arab Member of Knesset to serve in a governing coalition in Israeli history.

·  The delegation will have the opportunity to hear about why Abbas chose to join the governing coalition in the previous government, his opinion regarding the current debate over judicial reform in Israel, his perspective on the status and lived experience of Israeli Arabs, and peace between Israel and Palestinians.

Dr. Khalil Shikaki, Palestinian Center for Policy Survey Research

Dr. Shikaki is a Professor of Political Science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (Ramallah, Palestine). Since 2005 he has been a senior fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. He finished his Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University in 1985 and taught at several Palestinian and American universities. Between 1996-99, Dr. Shikaki served as Dean of Scientific Research at al Najah University in Nablus. He spent summer 2002 as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. Since 1993, Dr. Shikaki has conducted more than 200 polls among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and, since 2000, dozens of joint polls among Palestinians and Israelis.

·  Dr. Shikaki will walk the delegation through polling he’s completed of Palestinians and Israelis to provide a better understanding of the current state of thought amongst the two populations on issues related to peace, coexistence, the United States, and more.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The delegation will be briefed on the importance, depth, and impact of the U.S.-Israel relationship and how the relationships are mutually beneficial. There will also be a strategic overview of Israel’s position in the Middle East, as well as how Israel is working in and with Ukraine and Ukrainians and other developing regions.


Khaled Abu Toameh

Khaled Abu Toameh is an Israeli-Arab journalist, lecturer, and documentary filmmaker. Abu Toameh writes for The Jerusalem Post and for the New York based Gatestone Institute, where he is a senior distinguished fellow. He has been a producer and consultant for NBC News since 1989. His articles have also appeared in numerous newspapers around the world.

·  Abu Toameh will brief the delegation on the current situation with Palestine, finding peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the impact and meaning of the judicial reform debate, and more.

Ronit Harpaz

Ronit Harpaz is a medtech entrepreneur, CEO of Endoron Medical, a startup that is revolutionizing the treatment of aortic aneurysms with its breakthrough and a member of 8400 – a network of Israeli Healthtech leaders, who collaborate to accelerate global cure and build a powerful growth engine for Israel. Recognizing the need for greater diversity and inclusivity, Ronit founded WE@Healthtech, a women’s Executive Launchpad to empower and accelerate the advancement of talented women in leadership positions. When not working, Ronit has become one of the visible leaders of the protest movement in Israel fighting against the government of Israel’s proposed judicial reform.

·  Ronit will discuss her career path and her work helping to elevate women, and how that led her to become one of the leaders of the Israeli protest movement against proposed Judicial reforms, while remaining a proud Israeli.

Hineni Farm

This experimental farm in Kiryat Gat was established to help Ethiopian Jews maintain and pass on to the next generation important aspects of their Ethiopian culture, while also helping older generations retain their leadership roles within their families and communities.

·  While visiting the farm, the delegation will learn the story of what Ethiopian Jews had to overcome to reach Israel, how Israel worked at integrating Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society while helping them retain their culture and customs and participate in a Buna and Dabo ceremony.

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