The City of Williamsport formed a "sister city" alliance with Maale Adumim, an Israeli city in the West Bank about five miles from Jerusalem, Wednesday after Maale Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel toured Williamsport with Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.
Campana said the tour included stops at Susquehanna Health, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Lycoming College and Williamsport Area High School.
"We want to develop a friendship ... and start some positive dialogue," Campana said.
Campana hopes to open discussions with Maale Adumim on education and economic development, he said. Kashriel is responsible for the educational system in Maale Adumim and both mayors expressed interest in sending students to visit their sister city.
"We will do whatever we can to strengthen our economy in this city," Campana said. "I believe we can really learn from embracing our differences."
Rabbi Shaul Rappeport, of Williamsport's Ohev Sholom Synagogue, said Campana had shown great enthusiasm in initiating a relationship with Maale Adumim.
"I couldn't have found a more receptive and supportive person than our mayor," he said.
Maale Adumim's history makes it a particularly appropriate area for the sister city agreement, as it is the site of important moments both in Jewish and Christian history. Rappeport said he hopes the brotherhood between the Jewish and Christian faiths will be strengthened by the agreement. Male Adumim is described in the book of Joshua as the border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. It also is the site of the story of the "Good Samaritan" parable from the New Testament book of Luke.
Rappeport said American support is important for Maale Adumim during a time of pressure from the international community. Land in the West Bank is claimed by Palestinians for future settlement and Maale Adumim's settlement is considered illegal under international law, a judgment disputed by Israel.
"It is wonderful that we've been able, as a city, to step up and show our support," Rappeport said.
Rappeport said he prays for God to bless the agreement between cities.
"Really, the sky is the limit," he said. "We look forward to years of fruitful exchanges."
Kashriel, who is known as "Mayor Benny" in Maale Adumim, spoke of an exchange of ideas he hopes to see between the cities.
"We now find that Williamsport and Maale Adumim have a lot in common," he said. "And we can support each other. I think the agreement ... will strengthen both cities."
Kashriel noted that while Maale Adumim has a rich history, it only was established in 1976.
"We just took a piece of desert, emptied it and built a city there," he said.
The city has many projects under way, including a music conservatory. It has quickly grown to accommodate 30,000 residents.
Kashriel said he enjoyed his visit to Williamsport and hopes to see Campana in Maale Adumim soon.
"We want the people of Williamsport to come visit us and be our guests," he said.
Campana presented Kashriel with a key to the city, and Kashriel presented Campana with a medal.
Campana said the agreement will be on the next city council agenda as an official resolution, and a copy will be placed in the city hall entrance way.