By Sharon Wisch-Ray
This week’s Around the Town column is devoted to the recent Tarrant County Leadership mission to Israel.
As you all know, I recently returned from Israel on Feb. 1 from a mission as well. It was my husband Alex’s first trip. In truth, I never thought Alex would travel to Israel, but for so many years, I tried to explain to him what it means to set foot on the home of the Jewish people and feel connected to our past, present and future.
At the end of the trip, in a group setting, Alex reflected on his week in Israel and he said, “Everyone’s right, you have to see it to believe it. I’m a believer now.” Yasher koach to all those who participated and to Federation Executive Director Bob Goldberg, who penned the following:
A trip to Israel
Taking a traditional vacation to Hawaii or Italy or Europe is cool. We come back with nice photos, lots of food and site visit memories, and then we get home and unpack and get back to life, a little more enriched. Going to Israel is different. I can’t put my finger on what that thing is because it is different for everyone. But there is no doubt that having your feet on the ground in Israel, meeting Israelis and learning about the modern miracle of Israel inspires us Jewishly in ways that nothing else can.
Last fall we began a new Federation leadership initiative with the goal of engaging a small group of existing community leaders from throughout Fort Worth and Tarrant County and investing in them so that they can be even better than they already are.
Our group consists of a nice cross-section of our community and includes: David Bekerman (Arlington), Nora Bushlow (Keller), Alyson Halpern (Fort Worth), Blake Halpern (Fort Worth), Diane Kleinman (Fort Worth), Marcy Paul (Fort Worth), Lisa Rein (Arlington), Yael Sasley (Arlington), Nancy Schwartz (Keller), Stacey Silverman (Grapevine), and Stephanie Zavala (Fort Worth).
We have met every month since September in leadership sessions that have touched on topics such as “What is Jewish Leadership?” “The Art of Fundraising, Tzedakah as Justice,” “How to Share Our Personal Stories” and “Becoming an Effective Advocate.” We then enjoyed a 10-day Israel experience together, March 12-22, covering site visits across the country, meeting with Israelis and Partnership with Israel (P2G) friends and programs in the Western Galilee, and we came back prepared to make a difference.
I am thankful that we did not have use a single dollar of annual campaign funds to make this program happen. Through the generosity of a single donor, support from our unrestricted endowment fund and $1,000 from each participant, we were able to cover the total cost of the yearlong program and the Israel experience.
I want to share two pieces written by members of our group that express their reactions to the trip best. This first piece is a poem written by Congregation Beth Shalom President Yael Sasley.
There once was a Federation group called Leadership,
They met once a month and together went on an Israel trip.
After a long flight, they met their tour guide Shachar,
Dinner was next, but first they enjoyed some drinks in the hotel bar.
The following morning, breakfast was to die for,
Little did they know, all the walking that day would make them oh so very sore.
Ayalon Institute, Old Port of Yaffo, Ilana Goor Museum, and then lunch,
Then off to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, boy, they’re one cool bunch!
Even though jet lag had kicked in, they did not care,
Off they went to Independence Hall, and then to Rabin Square.
Later they checked out JDC’s Turning Point, Neve Michael, and had lunch in Etta Korenman’s backyard room,
Finally after such a busy day, they spent the night in Kfar Blum.
Shooting range, Jeep tour and tea on the Golan,
Har Bental, then Oz 77, but wait, they still weren’t done.
A fun visit to Assaf Winery, so much wine they did taste,
Dinner at Dag Al Hadan, wow, not a minute that day went to waste!
A morning tour of Sfat, with shopping that followed,
They got a quick summary of Kabbalah, you know, the Jewish DaVinci Code.
Akko was next, then dinner at Beit Gani,
In Nahariya they slept, at Starkman Erna Hotel, it’s kind of boutique-y.
Today they learned about Partnership, and where Federation money goes,
Wow the security centre of Matte Asher & Galilee Medical Center are really kept on their toes.
Lunch was at Briosh, with more Partnership friends,
Then off to Jerusalem to hear Gil Hoffman and Abu Toameh speak on politics and how Israelis and Arabs can make amends.
Col. Danny Tirza showed & explained all about the fence, boy it was tall,
Shortly after, excitement was in the air, because the next stop was to the Western Wall.
They entered the Old City and did the tunnels below,
All quarters they walked through & still had energy for the evening sound and light show.
The day started off somber with a visit to Yad Vashem,
Machane Yehuda was next, then ended the day at the Rose Garden.
To welcome Shabbat, they made a quick stop at the Kotel,
Next it was time for the Shabbat dinner, in a private room at the Hotel.
This was the last day, did they have enough falafel or tea with Nana?
The drive down south began, they passed the Dead Sea & headed strait to Masada.
We skipped Ein Gedi, chose the Dead Sea, we all agreed that was ok,
Then it was time to say Shalom to Shachar & Israel & catch their flight back to USA.
Thank you Bob for making this program happen,
You and your staff at Federation are totally awesome!
Your team formed a great group, you’ve made new Israeli eaters,
May this program bloom, and bring you many more young leaders!
The second piece is a blog post from Stephanie Zavala, board member at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. To see the full effect of the post, see photos from the trip.
Here are a few excerpts from the blog:
Israel: No Filter
By Penny Lane
You will never know Israel until you walk the streets of our ancestors that now intermingle with a bright, vibrant, modern world. …You will never know Israel until you spend time with Israelis. Until you hear their stories that are interlaced with a pride and love for their country that many of us cannot truly begin to understand.
You will never know Israel until you understand the definition of complexity and only then will you begin to scratch the surface of a nation forced to balance the politics of the world while others send bombs into schools to kill their children.
You cannot understand this land until you are an Israeli Defense Force soldier standing at the top of Masada reciting Masada Will Never Fall Again.
In addition to inspiring us individually and meeting people and programs that our Federation dollars support, this leadership initiative has allowed us to make new friends. Friends that we can reach out to in good times and bad, and friends that we want to share more Jewish experiences with. We have all become a little more aware of our Jewish world and our role in it. We also have the confidence to raise our voices to impact positive change.
This is what our Federation is about and must continue to be about: providing meaningful Jewish experiences for our community members and sharing with them our mission to support Jews in need and working to create a more active Jewish community for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors. Thank you to everyone who helped to make this experience happen. I can hardly wait to do it again! Kol HaKavod and Happy Passover.
Bob Goldberg is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County.