May 16, 2004, Updated September 13, 2012

Billings, Montana Mayor Charles Billings and Cleveland, Ohio Mayor Jane L. Campbell learn about the facilities at Jerusalem’s Yad Sarah headquarters last week.Nine American mayors temporarily traded in their managerial duties last week to become students again.

The mayors, who spent the week in Israel for the 22nd Jerusalem Conference of Mayors along with 22 other mayors from around the world, got first-hand exposure to Israeli expertise in disaster preparedness and emergency response, homeland security issues, as well as information about hi-tech business opportunities.

Of course, they also had fun. For Billings, Montana mayor Charles Tooley, the conference entitled “The Role of Mayor in Times of Crisis” as well as the entire Israel experience “was delightful. I’ve had a wonderful time,” he told ISRAEL21c. In addition to their working sessions, the mayors also got to tour the country, from the Old City of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and the Golan Heights.

But they primarily came to learn. Tooley especially cited as particularly useful sessions at the Jerusalem Municipality where the mayors exchanged information and learned how Jerusalem officials cope with disasters and emergencies.

“I think our sessions in the morning at City Hall are very valuable. We learned how the Jerusalem municipality has responded to terror and other emergencies. We also visited Hadassah Hospital to learn how they handle medical emergencies. It’s all been very worthwhile,” said Tooley.

At Hadassah, the mayors toured the trauma department and emergency facilities and learned about the hospitals disaster preparedness and emergency response capabilities in both conventional and non-conventional attacks.

For Cleveland, Ohio Mayor Mayor Jane L. Campbell, the conference prompted her to consider contingency planning for disasters, instead of handling cases as they arise.

“The most significant visit we made was to the Israel Center for Medical Simulation at Sheba Hospital,” she told ISRAEL21c.

The center is an international leader in the innovative and evolving field of medical simulation. Operational since late 2001, it has designed unique, hands-on training, in response to vital national needs to increase medical preparedness to face the ongoing challenges and threats of conventional and non-conventional warfare.

“We have actually been in conversation for months about trying to create a sister center in Cleveland,” Campbell said.

Mayor James A. Garner, of Hempstead, New York was most impressed by a Homeland Defense demonstration by the IDF.

“We had an amazing demonstration yesterday by the Army regarding biochemical detection that was an eye opener. You never know about this subject – things like anthrax are always a threat,” said Garner, a representatives on the State and Local Officials Senior Advisory Committee to the Department of Homeland Security

Homeland Security Secretary Thomas Ridge established the committee to provide the Homeland Security Advisory Council with advice on increasing America’s security from experts representing state and local governments.

“When I get back home, I plan on raising what I learned with Secretary Ridge at our next meeting,” Garner said.

Michael Wildes, the mayor of Englewood, N.J told the New York Jewish Week about conversation he had with a nurse at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem who recalled treating a Jewish child who was a victim of a terror attack and the Arab terrorist at the same time.

“She told me how emotionally difficult it was and that the charge of saving a life is so significant that they leave politics at the door,” he said. “It gives me tremendous pride to see that the mayors from Rwanda, Poland, Latvia and Croatia were hearing and seeing firsthand the quality of care provided, the level of intelligence [of the staff] and their professionalism.”

“We have had sessions with the chief of police of Jerusalem, the army commander in charge of the Jerusalem sector, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski,” he said. “As mayors, we have to accept the inevitability that terrorism may find its way to our shores. The mayor of Jerusalem put together a presentation that gives us great comfort to know that there is a democracy that not only has met this challenge but has ensured the quality of life and the establishment of law.”

The conference, hosted by Lupolianski and the Jerusalem Municipality, was sponsored by the American Jewish Congress – Council for World Jewry, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Tourism and the Konrad Adenauer foundation.

Other mayors in the U.S. delegation included Cristina Cruz Madrid of Azusa, Calif.; Rosemarie Ives of Redmond, Wash.; David Wallace of Sugar Land, Texas; Shelia Young of San Leandro, Calif., and County Executive Joseph Griffo of Oneida County, N.Y. Mayors of capital cities – including Buenos Aires, Stockholm, Addis Ababa, and Vilnius participated alongside mayors from lesser-known locales, including Barquisi, Venezuela and Lilongue, Malawi.

American Jewish Congress Chairman Jack Rosen, told the New York Jewish Week. “We want them to carry [the true picture] back to their cities to provide a good counter-balance to the media reports in Europe,” he added. “We want them to hear of the conflict from an Israeli perspective, to see what the meaning of terror activities is in Israel and why Israel has to respond.”

“Every mayor who takes part becomes an ambassador of good will for Israel, and several past participants of this event have gone on to become presidents and prime ministers in their respective countries.”

According to Hempstead, NY mayor Garner, his first trip to Israel has caused him to think differently about the country.

“I think the idea of being afraid to come to Israel because of terror is a misnomer. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t been the least bit in danger, and I plan on talking about the ‘big myth’ when I get back home. I plan on passing the message on to the community at large – please come see Israel!”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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