A Tale of Two Zoos

by Jacqueline Bull August 27, 2018


2018-delegationEvery summer, the San Diego Zoo holds a luncheon to commemorate the end of the youth exchange program. This program has students from the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem come to San Diego to learn from the experts. Typically, Congresswoman Susan Davis also attends the luncheon and awards certificates to the students from Israel after a presentation about the Jerusalem Zoo. This is what I expected to attend while waiting in line at the San Diego Zoo on a very sunny Wednesday afternoon in August.

What I didn’t expect was by talking to the director of the Jerusalem Zoo, that I would learn a great deal about the city of Jerusalem and the history of San Diego and Israel’s relationship. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

This luncheon marked the 14th year of the youth exchange, but also the 25th anniversary of the Jerusalem Zoo in its current location.

“We are here because there is a long partnership between big groups of Jewish supporters from San Diego to Jerusalem Zoo,” said Shai Doron, CEO and director of the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem (Jerusalem Zoo). “The impact of what the people of San Diego did to Jerusalem, to the city of Jerusalem, even to Israel…. no one could have thought about it when it started 25 years ago. The zoo in Jerusalem became the biggest tourist attraction in Israel in places that you need to pay admission,” he said.

Throughout our conversation, Shai remarked on “the wider impact” of the relationship between the San Diego and Jerusalem cities and zoos. The wider impact, ultimately being the huge success of the zoo, but even before that the love and tutelage that the San Diego Zoo gave to the Jerusalem Zoo. One of the results of that was that many of the students who attended the youth exchange program became senior staff members at the Jerusalem Zoo, including their general curator or head keeper and the head of the education department.

And throughout this 25-year journey, The Jerusalem Foundation has been there to support the zoo and what it could mean for the city.

“The mission of the Jerusalem Foundation for now more than 50 years has always been to build Jerusalem into a global destination for science and industry, arts and culture, education, tourism and at the same time maintain the city’s character as a diverse and multicultural place, which creates the best possible opportunities for all of its residents in all the neighborhoods of the city. And the reason that the zoo has been such an emphasis for us is that it perfectly accomplishes both sides of that mission … Shai is fond of saying this, ‘the animals who are most impacted by the zoo are not the ones inside the enclosures,’ it is the humans who come through everyday,” said Joseph Nadis, the Executive Director of The Jerusalem Foundation in the USA.

And according to Shai, the animals that most exemplify the impact of the zoo are the human students that are a part of the exchange program. The six kids that were a part of the program and later stood up at the front of the room at the luncheon to say a few words, represent a slice of the city of Jerusalem. Shai explained there were two from Palestine, one from Russia, one from Ethiopia and two Israeli kids from different regions and political backgrounds.

“If you want to understand what Jerusalem is all about is to watch those kids and what could be the future of the city … see what kind of brotherhood, friendship, among those six young people from all the different backgrounds…You will see, I don’t need to talk today, I don’t need to make no presentation,” he said and made a big wide gesture to represent displaying the six students. “This is Jerusalem, this is the zoo, this is what we succeeded to accomplish.” Α


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