JCA leads impactful trip to Israel for local agency professionals


Federation Communications Director


                In early December, more than a dozen professionals from the Jacksonville Jewish community embarked on an eight day journey to Israel following 10 previous months of study here in the states. The group, comprised of 11 employees of the Jewish Community Alliance, a pair from Jewish Family & Community Services and another from the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville came together each month to discuss assigned topics and articles they were given prior to each session. The topics ranged from the history of the land to the modern day conflict and even modern day technology which spans a vast majority of the country.


“The readings beforehand truly educated me and they reinforced things that I have learned when I was a child, especially from a biblical and historical perspective,” explained JFCS Director of Development and Marketing Kathy Wohlhuter. “They also gave us some context in understanding Israel today.”


With sufficient preparation and knowledge in toe, the group boarded a flight in Jacksonville, bound for New York’s JFK, which would eventually take them to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv the following day.  Upon arrival the 11 woman and three man crew met their tour educator and bus driver and began a more than week journey which would take them on stops in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada and the Golan Heights. Important and educational sites such as the Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the ancient city of Tzippori in the north, provided each professional with important insight into the nation’s rich history and role in building a modern day and thriving society.


“I think what we received on a daily basis was a complete narrative on how Israel came to be,” said Federation Communications Director Matt Franzblau. “To see how exactly the seeds were planted for the place we were rediscovering each day was a special experience because it was done through the lens of people who helped plant those seeds and water them throughout the years.”


While some like Franzblau had been to Israel before, others on the trip were traveling to this very sacred land for the very first time. One of those people included preschool teacher Cheryl Cumm who has been working at the ‘J’ for a total of 32-years.  “Even though I am not Jewish, I found it very emotional to watch my friends and coworkers who are Jewish and see how connected they are to the land,” she said. “You get over there and you see this is where you belong and this is where it all happened, so that was very moving for me,”


One of those coworkers who Cumm was referring to was Sandy Oasis, who currently runs adult programming at the JCA and has been there for about 16-years. Like her colleague, Oasis was making her very first trip to Israel and truly felt like it was the trip of a lifetime. “I have always been very proud to be a Jew and have always wanted to learn more, so through this experience I have,” she described of her trip. “I thought I knew a lot about Israel but when I got there I found that it was a whole new world and learned so much more.”


Oasis also found herself doing things and planning activities she previously hadn’t once she returned to the states. “I’ve noticed that I’m now reading about Israel in the newspapers which I had never done before,” she said. “And as far as work goes, I am planning to have an Israeli chocolate tasting for the adults and we’re going to be making body scrubs with Dead Sea salts.”


Cumm has also seen how her recent trip is affecting her daily life in and out of the classroom. “I feel like now that I have seen some of the sights that we talk about and teach, now I can really relate to it,” she explained. “As an example, yesterday Karen (Morse, who also accompanied her on the trip), was reading a book to my kids when all of a sudden there was a picture of Masada and I knew exactly what she was talking about.”


“We were much more prepared than I think the normal traveler is to understand and experience Israel because I felt the readings truly explained the country from its beginnings,” Wohlhuter said.


Aside from some of the traditional sights and spots any travel group to Israel would see, the professionals also made stops at off the beaten places such as the Hula Valley to see the world’s largest bird migration as well as roaming through ruins in the ancient city of Tzippori. The 14 seminar participants also experienced the best of culinary creations the country had to offer, dining in a Muslim women’s home at an Arab neighborhood in the North, enjoying a Shabbat meal from a professional chef in Jerusalem and tasting wine at a vineyard near the Golan Heights.     


“It was just like a revelation to me because the amount years I’ve worked here (at the JCA), you often talk about this stuff and see the pictures, but nothing compares to when you go and see it firsthand,” Cumm explained. “Just talking about it gets me excited again, as a matter of fact, I want to go back.”


That’s exactly what trip leaders Myron Flagler (Executive Director) and Pam Tavill (Director of Administration) hope to accomplish in bringing another cohort of professionals to Israel in the near future.