When Miri Ketayi arrived at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County as the new Director of Israel and Overseas on December 6th, she brought a wealth of experience building bridges between Diaspora and Israeli communities.
Most recently the Director of Israel and International Education at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Miri built strong ties and lasting relationships between Los Angeles and Israel through a variety of programs, initiatives, and delegations.
Among her many accomplishments, she created what she terms “clusters” or connections among LA’s synagogues and partner communities in Tel Aviv. This effort targeted families who may have been affiliated with a synagogue, but who were, perhaps, less engaged than families with children enrolled in day schools. This not only bonded different local and Israeli communities with each other, but also allowed the communities to initiate other powerful cross-cultural connections and opportunities among themselves, including hosting each other during visits.
“These are impactful experiences that build strong bonds and that cultivate relationships between LA and with Israel,” she says.
Prior to the LA Federation, Miri served as Director of Education at Temple Sinai in Palm Desert, where she worked with the local Federation to create partnerships between the Palm Desert Jewish community and Ramat HaNegev in Israel.
“This,” she says, “allowed American teens with no connection to Israel to form strong relationships with Israelis living in Ramat HaNegev. Being able to create a project where families and teens connected was unique.”
It was also successful. Six years after it began, families from both sides of the ocean are still in touch with each other, building on the base of better understanding Israelis and Israeli culture.
Born in Russia, Ketayi’s family made Aliyah to Israel when she was 5 years old. Though young in Russia, she easily recalls feeling different because she was Jewish. She relays stories of anti-Semitism directed at her father who was laid off after asking permission to leave the country. In the early 1990’s, while working in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, she had the opportunity to return to her native country. She was surprised to learn that the same anti-Semitism still remains and developed an even deeper appreciation for the existence of a Jewish state.
Miri’s reach is farther than the local communities with which she works and Israel.
“I am passionate about cultivating relationships and strong connections between Jewish communities around the globe so we can thrive and build upon our shared history as well as sense of Jewish peoplehood.” Ketayi says of European Jewish communities that are in the throes of Jewish renewal. “It is essential for us to work harder to create an understanding that we are one people, and a sense of peoplehood and relationship to each other. That’s what creates my passion. Our task is to help recreate Jewishness and a strong sense of communal responsibility.”
Ketayi earned a BA in Jewish History from the Tel Aviv University, and an MA in Teaching from the American Jewish University. She recently completed her second master’s degree in Public Administration from California State University, Northridge. She is married to Eric and is a mother to Shira, a sophomore at Indiana University, and Yehonatan (Yoni) who is in 8th grade.