Speaking Across Borders: With JDC, One Woman Forges a Cross-Cultural Friendship

Last year, Ashley Amar had to miss a planned JDC Entwine “Inside Jewish Morocco” trip. But that wasn't the end of the story.

By Ashley Amar - JDC Entwine Alumna | July 19, 2021

During the pandemic, Ashley Amar (front right) began volunteering virtually through JDC Entwine, forging a powerful connection with a young woman in Israel.

Last year, when borders closed and travel stopped, Ashley Amar had to miss a planned JDC Entwine “Inside Jewish Morocco” trip. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Despite the pandemic, she began volunteering and met a woman from halfway around the world who changed her life for the better. In this reflection,Amar discusses the value of cross-cultural interactions, and how JDC made this friendship possible.

Just before the pandemic started, I got accepted to JDC’s “Inside Jewish Morocco” trip. Being from a Moroccan family, I was very excited to visit my parents’ country and spend my birthday in Morocco.

Cue the pandemic and the resultant cancellation (postponement, I hope!) of what would have been the highlight of my travelling and learning career.

Ashley Amar

I was really disappointed. 

But then JDC Entwine contacted me. Arezu Hashemi, who staffed my Jews of Color trip to Brazil with Entwine, reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in volunteering with a new program called Insider Connections: Global Virtual Service. I would have the opportunity to speak French with an elderly person who lived in a JDC-supported old-age home in Morocco. Our conversations, Arezu said, would be a way to entertain and connect with them during the pandemic. I was really excited about this, because I love hearing stories about Morocco, a place I’ve never been to, but feel like I know so much about and feel so connected to.

But after some technical difficulties with Morocco, something else happened: JDC asked if I would instead be interested in speaking to an Arab-Israeli in Israel who wanted to improve their English.

Enter Amira. I don’t know how JDC matched us so well. Maybe it was timing, or just the fact that we were two eager women wanting to expand our horizons.

This was just the first of many similarities. Only a few months apart in age, we’re both interested in self-improvement and reaching our potential, investing, and empowering other women in the workplace. When I told her that I worked in television, she gave me her friend’s husband’s phone number so that I could ask about a job at his studio. She even told me to come to Israel so she could help me find a husband (I’m going to hold her to that!).

A Toronto native, Amar traveled to Brazil on a JDC Entwine trip with other Jews of Color.

Amira is impressive. A Muslim Arab Israeli living in Northern Israel, she holds an MA in non-profit management from the Hebrew University, and currently serves as the Director of Training and Development at El Fanar, a JDC partner, that runs 13 vocational training centers for the Arab Israeli sector across northern Israel. Through Insider Connections, I had the incredible opportunity to learn about Amira herself and the incredible impact she is making in her community.

Amira’s English was already amazing when I met, and though I helped with grammar and some slang, our conversations ended up being weekly catchups between friends. Throughout the week, we would text each other, and we’d share updates during our Sunday calls. I knew we were meant to be friends when, during our first phone call, we invited each other to come visit. Over video chat, she introduced me to her kids, who were all too happy to tell me the English words they had learned at school. 

My favourite part about getting to know Amira was hearing about her entrepreneurial endeavours. Like me, she’s always brimming with ideas. And boy does she act on them. She started a company with her friend — a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) woman — called Job 360. Job 360 uses virtual reality to empower both Israeli Arab and Haredi women with the skills they need to thrive in the workforce. 

Amira told me that women in both communities lack the same kinds of opportunities and access to the workplace as men, and that she and her business partner wanted to change that. They competed against 12 other teams for a $50,000 pitch; Amira sent me the pitch, in English, so that I could correct any errors. I texted every few days to check in to see if there was any news, and I was thrilled when she told me she’d won. 

Amidst pandemic and social isolation, our weekly conversations were so meaningful.

Amidst pandemic and social isolation, our weekly conversations were so meaningful to me. I don’t know when I’ll next be able to visit Israel, but talking to Amira about sites we’ve both seen and places we’ve both eaten was like a remote visit. It was like I was in her living room, catching up with a good friend.

Especially after the recent Israel emergency, I believe that Amira’s venture, and others like it, will be what brings Israel together. I am so grateful to have played even a tiny part in this, and I’m so grateful to JDC for connecting us. 

Given that borders are largely still closed, JDC’s program is so important, because it gave me the chance to befriend someone across the world, and, in a small way, help her realise her dreams. 

I believe it’s crucial to learn about people who are different from you and who have unique experiences. And I’m so happy that JDC made my wonderful friendship with Amira possible.

Ashley Amar, 34, lives in Toronto and works in television as a production coordinator for kids’ animated TV shows. She loves travelling, volunteering, and cultivating friendships with people all over the world. When she’s not working, you can find her hiking, painting, or writing scripts. She hopes to eventually make it to Morocco. She’ll send you a postcard.

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