Mayor of Israeli sister city expresses thanks for assistance

by Erin Madsen

The mayor of a northern Israeli town spoke at the Hillel Jewish Student Center on Monday, emphasizing the town’s union with the Minneapolis Jewish Federation in the program Partnership 2000.
Partnership 2000 aims to alleviate welfare problems and improve education and leadership in Tiberias through social programs organized in conjunction with MJF. The sister-city coalition was established in 1998.
“We receive help from friends around (Minneapolis),” said Benjamin Kiryati, Tiberias’ mayor. “Help is to have people teach English in order to make … a better future for the people of Tiberias.”
Kiryati said Partnership 2000 has also helped facilitate women’s social service projects and employment opportunities in Tiberias.
More than 40 percent of the people in Tiberias depend on its welfare system, Kiryati said. He also said drug use is six times higher in his town than in the rest of Israel.
Programs encouraged by Partnership 2000, including industrialization awareness, could help improve the city’s future, he said.
“We have no advantage when it comes to (sophisticated) industry — we have no harbor. We need industry that deals with small products that are easy to move,” he said.
Kiryati helped to initiate Partnership 2000 after his election to office in 1998 because of the lack of previous politicians’ concern for the citizens’ welfare.
“We had a lousy leadership with no skill,” he said. “If you have a bad leader, the government does not want to deal with (him).”
Financing his campaign with his own money, Kiryati ran on an independent ticket and was elected mayor despite intense lobbying from major-party candidates.
After winning the election, Kiryati said, he iniated improvement plans for Tiberias.
Those plans included creating a union with the MJF in Partnership 2000.
Kiryati also spoke about Tiberias’ history, which dates back more than 2,000 years.
Kiryati said that when his ancestors moved to Tiberias 200 years ago, it was regarded as “a city with a very important role in the Jewish state of Israel.”
In recent years, diverse religious and ethnic groups have immigrated to Tiberias from Iraq, Ethiopia, Morocco and the former Soviet Union.
David Kunin, the U.S. chairman of the MJF’s Partnership 2000 programs, introduced Kiryati as a war hero and former famous lawyer who authored several bankruptcy laws in Tel Aviv.

Erin Madsen covers culture and diversity and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612)627-4070 x3233