His Field Of Green
Bringing Arab and Jewish youth together on the soccer field.
Special to the Jewish . News
few weeks ago, the father of a close friend
of mine in Canada spent a busy six days in
Israel. Anything but a casual tourist, Irwin
Green was on a personal mission. Irwin, 90,
is a former businessman with an inordinate amount of
energy and drive. When asked his age, Irwin answers,
"let's just say I'm too old to retire."
Originally from Detroit, but now living in Boca
Raton, Fla., Irwin is a frequent traveler to Israel. This
was his third trip in the past year and a half. Each time,
he's come for the same purpose — to help improve
relations between Jewish and Arab residents in the
neighboring Central Galilee towns of Nazareth and
A few years ago, Irwin became aware of the
Parmership 2000 program linking the Detroit Jewish
community with Nazareth Illit, a primarily Jewish
town he'd never heard of until then. He knew of the
existence of nearby Nazareth, the largest Arab city in
Israel, but didn't know of how the Jewish and Arab
standards of living compared in the two communities.
Irwin soon learned that although the Arabs are Israeli
citizens with full civil and political rights, they suffer
from major economic and social gaps compared to the
Jewish sector. Such disparities in government funding
in public health, education, welfare and. infrastructure
were most evident in Nazareth and Nazareth Illit.
Irwin wanted to know more. He held discussions
with Israeli government officials and private individuals
aware of how critical the situation had become. He also
met with Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit
CEO Robert Aronson, who was well informed about
the subject and the needs in the area.
"I came to the conclusion that the most effective way
I can help Israel is to show that its two main commu-
nities, Arab and Jewish, can work together for the ben-
efit of both," says Irwin. "Aside from the moral issues
involved, Israel is losing a great deal by not utilizing
and better integrating 20 percent of its population.
There must be equality fors all citizens in Israel. Today,
Israeli Arabs are very much second class citizens in their
Jewish Arab relations in Israel is an issue that has
become increasingly important to Irwin. He's commit-
ted to improving the situation and puts his money
where his mouth is. In recent years, he's contributed
more than $2 million to projects aimed at nurturing
Jewish Arab coexistence and greater equality for Israel's
1.5 million-strong Arab minority:
But more than just signing checks, Irtin gets actively
Robert Sarner is a senior reporter-editor on Israel's only
English-language daily TV news show. Before moving to
Israel in 1990, he was a writer and magazine
editor in Paris and Toronto. His e-mail address is
Irwin Green, center, and son Don are surrounded by young soccer players at the stadium's dedication.
involved in helping develop each endeavor. He also
meets regularly with others promoting equality for
Israeli Arabs such as Labor Party Knesset member
Rabbi Michael Melchior.
During his visit to Israel last month, Irwin helped
inaugurate a $2.5 million soccer stadium renovation he
funded in Nazareth lllit. Through a partnership with
Elite Chocolates and the additional support of Detroit
Federation funding, "Green Field" provides a safe
haven for an after-school sports program that currently
serves hundreds of Jewish and Arab Israeli youngsters
from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Accompanied by his son Don who lives in Toronto,
Irwin took part in a special ceremony April 25 involv-
ing 1,200 teenagers and local dignitaries.
In his address to the crowd, which included nearly
200 of the 568 members of Federation's Michigan
Miracle Mission 4, Irwin said that it is a new challenge •
for Jews to be in• the majority in a country after being
in the minority for thousands of years.
Irwin also visited the Irwin Green Family Early
Childhood Development Center he funded in nearby
Nazareth. During the construction of the three-story
building that is nearly complete, Irwin used fax, e-mail
and phone to work closely with Mayor Ramez Jaraisy
and the Arab builders to oversee the project. This sum-
mer, Irwin plans to return to Israel for the inauguration
of the center that will provide services for both Jewish
and Arab children in the region.
At the cornerstone laying ceremony in 2002, Irwin
and his son Don, co-founder of the clothing firm
Roots, arranged a public reconciliation between
Menachem Ariav, the Jewish mayor of Naza reth Illit
and Jaraisy, his Arab counterpart in Nazareth. Until
then, the two mayors had been locked in a bitter dis-
pute and had refused to speak to each other since Arab
rioting erupted in the area two years earlier.
A longtime supporter of Jewish education initiatives,
Irwin began his involvement with Israel in 1956. With
his wife, Bethea, he established a community center in
Shlomi on Israel's northern border and financed the
construction of three pre-kindergartens in Kiryat
Irwin follows closely the news coming out of the
Middle East. It disturbs him that although Israel's
Declaration of Independence guarantees social and
political equality for all its of its citizens, that the gov-
ernment continues to shortchange the country's Arab
population when it comes to public spending.
Many see the decades-old disadvantaged state of
Israel's Arab minority and the failure of the Jewish
majority to remedy it as one of Israel's greatest national
failures. One no less significant than the failure to
make peace with the Palestinians.
"We Jews often consider ourselves guardians of what
is right," says Irwin. "Not only is it right for Israel to
improve the status of its Arab citizens, Israel stands to
gain on many levels."
Irwin is trying to make that happen. Long may he
thrive and make many more return visits to Israel. ❑