From Idea to Process: Ferrying Creation of a New Sister City Committee to Official Status

Building on the Ostrovsky – North Atlanta exchange to expand city to city / people to people connection:

Given the success of the Ovstrovsky – North Atlanta student exchange, and the warm feelings of friendship that were developing between the people of Ra’anana and Atlanta, I returned home to enthusiastically pursue development of Atlanta’s eighteenth sister city partnership. It has since become the seventeenth sister city partnership because of Canberra, Australia’s (created in 2000) decision to terminate the special relationship in 2004.

I had served as the Chair of the Atlanta – Rio de Janeiro Committee from 1995 – 1998 and grown frustrated by Rio’s inability to form a working counterpart of a committee to make joint projects happen. Unlike Rio’s exceptional current Chair Wilma Kruger who has grown the committee and instituted numerous joint programs over the past decade, I was not Brazilian, nor did I speak Portuguese. I was able to keep the Rio Committee alive and only because the wonderful Brazilian community in Atlanta was so supportive of my efforts and good to me, and my dear friend Myrna Cohen who helped me as the Vice – Chair. As my three year term came to a close, I loved the mission of sister cities and yearned for a enthusiastic new city to twin with, preferably in Israel, and build a program from scratch.

Of course, the window of opportunity opened upon visiting Mayor Bielski’s office, observing his resourceful and efficient staff, and entering in to exciting joint education programs and projects with Ostrovsky High Principal Nahum Hofree, now the current Mayor. I asked Myrna, a tireless worker for sister cities programs since the early 1990’s, if she would like to establish the Atlanta – Ra’anana Committee. That was a no-brainer and Myrna soon recruited the very able Aaron Bernstein who played a huge role in building the program and committee. Aaron served as Vice – Chair for many years and focused on organizing high school basketball exchanges with Lavon Mercer. Aaron is also recognized for his work for the American – Israel Chamber of Commerce, South East Division, and the Jewish National Fund.

When asked how a good sister city committee works, I give them a stock answer; “I can tell you in six words…..Myrna Cohen, Rena Kahn, Cedric Suzman – they are the three main reasons for the committee’s almost fifteen year long history. “

Laying the groundwork:

I consulted with Dr. Georgianne Thomas, ASCC Chair, at a Braves game, about the Commission expanding into the Middle East. The ASCC, for strategic purposes, had aimed to expand in to the Middle East by twinning with an Arab Muslim city or an Israeli city. The most attractive cities, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzylia to name three, were long ago twinned with other major American cities. I informed Dr. Thomas that I’d found a perfect small city in Israel that had surprising reach and resources. Georgianne said that it sounded good to her and encouraged me “to go for it”.

Georgianne advised that I meet with Mrs. Glenda Minkin, Director of Marketing for the City of Atlanta and an influential member of the Atlanta Jewish Community. Glenda was instrumental in gaining support from the Atlanta Jewish Federation to bless our endeavor though our Israeli city was considered too affluent to receive any help. Federation would soon focus on Yochneam, a development city about a half hour north of Ra’anana, by underwriting and organizing many fine social, economic, and environmental programs that over the past decade has greatly helped the people of Yochneam to achieve a fairly high quality of life (Tikkun Olam – “repair the world”).

In January of 1999, Ra’anana Mayor Bielski wrote to Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell to formally apply for sister city partnership. On Feb. 17, 1999, Mayor Campbell responded to Mayor Bielski’s letter of proposal.

Short History of the Development of the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission (ASCC):

 

In 1967, Atlanta linked with Brussels, Belgium as its first sister city. In 1972, former Mayor Sam Massell began promoting Atlanta’s push towards international city status by initiating the City’s participation in the Sister Cities International Program. A Board of Aldermen’s Resolution extended an invitation to three cities to twin with Atlanta – Montego Bay, Jamaica; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Lagos, Nigeria (1974). In 1973, Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell queried if Jerusalem would twin with Atlanta – Mayor Massell was Atlanta’s first Jewish Mayor too. Regardless, Jerusalem quickly declined. In 1990, some one had tried to twin Atlanta with Holon, a small city in the Tel Aviv Metropolitan area, but that effort went nowhere.

On May 8, 1999, I formally submitted a request to the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission (ASCC) that it twin with Ra’anana, Israel. I soon discovered that the process of linking the two cities would be more complicated than the wishful thinking that had driven me to date. Some Atlanta Sister Cities Commission members questioned Ra’anana’s size and status. I countered that both Atlanta and Ra’anana were each the tenth largest cities in their respective countries and that size was proportional. I counseled the ASCC that Ra’anana was the largest and most prestigious Israeli city not yet twinned with an American city and there were no other choices – that if we wanted an Israeli sister city, it was virtually Ra’anana or none at all. Furthermore, Tel Aviv and Haifa were twinned with larger U. S. cities and Jerusalem – the center for three major religions - may never twin with any city and that might be very practical.

The ASCC dealt with the Ra’anana application at the Oct. 13, 1999 monthly commission meeting. Myrna Cohen, Aaron Bernstein, Israel Consul Ilan Segev and Etienne Getin were present to lobby for approval. The minutes for the New Cities Report, prepared by Dr. Austin Esogbue, Atlanta – Lagos Chair, are presented below to illustrate the intensity of the debate for approval or rejection.

I respected statements from Lou Zakas and Nick Modares – they were friends of mine - that they simply wished to table the resolution for the November meeting as they wanted some more information and were not prepared to approve the resolution until they received it. I provided them the information – they assured me in good faith that was all they needed for their deliberation. I was determined that the resolution would prevail at the November 10, 1999 ASCC meeting and prepared a brief that made the case for Ra’anana approval.

Thankfully, the eleven reasons for approval persuaded the Commission to support the resolution. The Mayor’s Office, on Jan. 3, 2000, referred the Commission’s decision to the Atlanta City Council for sanctioning the resolution and placing the City of Atlanta on the path to creating a sister city in Israel. On January 18, 2000, Councilman Derrick Bozeman sponsored the Mayor’s resolution and it passed that day.

Myrna, Aaron and I set out to aggressively recruit members to start up our new committee. Two twinning and proclamation signing missions in respective cities was required to make the partnership official with Sister Cities International. On March 19, 2000, I held a party at my home to celebrate the establishment of the Atlanta – Ra’anana Committee and encouraged my fellow Atlantans to join with me and build it. More than twenty-five “founders” met that day to give birth to the ARSCC.

The following document was used as a membership form with stated annual dues of $25.

Atlanta Sister Cities Commission press release describing Ra’anana’s becoming Atlanta’s 18th sister city.

City of Atlanta’s Office of International Affairs acknowledging Ra’anana as its newest sister city.

Tom Glaser, President, American – Israel Chamber of Commerce, Southeast Division, visited Ra’anana July 26, 2000. Tom has always said that

Ra’anana is a great place to do business. I have always left economic development to the master – Tom Glaser.

First communication between Atlanta Sister Cities Commission and Mayor’s Office in Ra’anana. Note that Ra’anana has been listed on the ASCC’s

official stationary – taken it’s place among the other 17 sister cities.

The AICCSE was extremely supportive of the Ra’anana Committee’s founding. Tom Glaser was at the March 20, 2000 celebration party. He and

Ilan Friedman, the AICCSE Vice President at the time, sat down with me to help forge a strategic plan for the new sister city committee.