SEBRING — Five years ago Italian Catholic Justin Devlin, one of the founders of Avanti Company in Avon Park, wanted to spread her passion and love for Israel to the rest of Highlands County. She founded and is president of the Heartland American-Israeli Initiative.

The mission of the group is to support vigorously the long-standing partnership between the United States and Israel by heightening awareness at the grass roots level among government representatives, local institutions and the general public.

Over the years the group has met during the winter months every second Wednesday at Chicane’s at Inn on The Lake, Sebring. Compelling international speakers have spoken on a range of topics from anti-Semitism on college campuses to the Israel military.

Three Unity Breakfasts were held in the past where over 200 people joined together to learn more about Israel. Ken Treister, designer of the Holocaust Memorial in Miami, spoke in 2016, Lois Haiat, Israel Counsel General in 2017 and Rabbi David Nesenoff was the the keynote speaker in 2019.

HAII also sponsored bus trips to the Holocaust Memorial in Miami and the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg’s.

Board members of HAII include President Justine Devlin, Vice-President Marvin Kahn, Secretary Donna Wasson, Treasurer Jamie, Bateman and members Terry O’Leary and Bobby Lee. Millie Anderson serves as initiative communication director. The board met Wednesday, Nov. 12 to plan the luncheons scheduled at noon for Jan. 13, Feb. 10, March 10, April 14 and May 12.

Many non-Jewish people are not familiar with the branches of Judasim, or the Jewish holy days.

Others have asked about the difference between Jewish men who dress in black, have unique sideburns called payos, or wear a kappa, commonly known as a Yamaka. Others wonder what is the difference between the judicial system in the US compared to the country of Israel.

With that in mind HAII is planning to have speakers answer many of these questions at the 2021 luncheons. Donna Wasson, who holds a PhD. In Education and Cultural Anthropology from Indiana University, will be guest speaker Jan. 13. Her topic is entitled, “What is Kosher?”

HAII is open to anyone interested in learning more about Israel. Membership is $25 a year. The monthly luncheons are all open to the public. Just come to Chicane’s upper room, order your own lunch, meet new friends and learn more about America’s friendship with Israel.

At the January 13th meeting the initiative will also hold the election of new board members and officers. Anyone interested in becoming a member of the board, can e-mail Devlin at with questions and interest.