In April, the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville led its latest mission to Israel. While every mission is an amazing experience, this one was particularly unique as it is Israel's 70th birthday year! From April 15-24, the group experienced the city of Jaffa, the Ramon Crater, the gravesite of Ben Gurion, a special Kabbalat Shabbat at Aish HaTorah, meditation at the Western Wall, and so much more. While it's hard to put into words the amazing experience of one of our mission trips, we've asked some mission participants to share their experience.
This recent trip to Israel with Federation for Israel’s 70th birthday was just fabulous. My husband and I traveled with 43 other Jacksonville area friends for ten days. It was my second time in the Holy Land, but people on the trip ranged from never having been to Israel, to having traveled to Israel twenty times. It didn’t matter- the trip was geared for everyone. It is hard to pick one thing that I liked the best as each place and adventure we visited was better than the next. One of my favorite parts was visiting the Ramon Crater and riding in jeeps up and down the crater. At the bottom, we enjoyed a delicious lunch - right there in the middle of this amazing crater. I also loved the Star Gazing in the crater at night. There was no outside light, and you could see the stars and constellations so crisp and clear through the telescopes that were brought in for our group. It was also amazing to be in Israel during Yom Hazikaron, and we were honored by the Mayor Mitzpe Ramon during the memorial service. When the local Israelis sang Hatikvah at the end of their program to honor the fallen soldiers, it hit me at that moment the deep connection that I have with Israel. I am sure our whole group was a bit teary eyed after that. And then to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut only twenty-four hours later in our sister city of Hadera, was priceless. We competed in a top chef like cooking contest with our Israeli friends from the region and everyone loved the evening! If you hadn’t fallen in love with Israel by then, you did that night. It was magical. The most unbelievable thing for me on this trip was getting to see our Israeli friends who have traveled to Jacksonville on our Partnership program and in some cases, have stayed in our home. Each friend made a special trip to see us wherever we were staying or visiting on a given day, just to spend some time with me and Ken and to hug and kiss. This is what Partnership is all about- the relationships. Our Israeli friends who are like family certainly showed us that while we were there. I am glad to be back home, but I am especially missing Israel now as my daughter, Sarah, is spending the summer there visiting her Partnership friends and family and working an internship through MASA, a Federation-funded program.
I've been to Israel 9 or 10 times. I've been to the 50th, 60th, and 70th anniversaries. But this time, there was a unique chemistry between the people who participated. Within a day everyone was sitting and talking like they had known each other for years. The highlight was at the park called Oz V’Gaon where we were addressed by Raheli Frankl, the mother of Noptoli Frankl. After she spoke, I asked my rabbi how he felt, and he said he felt like he was in the presence of greatness. And if you know Rabbi Fisch, those adjectives and compliments don’t come often.
For anyone who hasn't been on to Israel yet, I say get there as quickly as you can! For me, it's like being on a different planet. Your essence as a human being is exposed when you're there.
It is always special to be in Israel. Being there with 45 people from our community to celebrate Israel's 70th birthday was really wonderful! We shared Yom Ha'atzmaut with our friends in Hadera, experienced a number of things for the first time to include the beauty of the Negev, we laughed, we cried. We also raised a lot of money and this will serve as a good beginning for the 2019 annual campaign.