For many of the elderly people living at the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset, travel had become a thing of the past, a pleasure they could no longer expect. But the staff thought otherwise.
In early November, they are planning to take a contingent of people — most in their 80s and 90s — on a 10-day trip to Israel. The itinerary will include the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Dead Sea, and Masada. Specially adjusted travel arrangements are being made by an Israeli agent.
“We are preparing for all contingencies,” said Jackie Kott, recreation director of the Stein Assisted Living and the Wilentz Senior residences.
The Wilf Campus Foundation is covering much of the expense; the cost to participants is $1,000. Traveling with them will be campus chaplain Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner, and about 10 other staff members, including a nurse, a home health aide, and possibly a doctor. Support equipment is being supplied free of charge in Israel through Yad Sarah, a nonprofit that helps those with disabilities.
“Our general board as well as our foundation board are so thrilled and happy to be able to do this mitzva for our seniors,” said Wilf Campus CEO Susan Harris. “It was very warmly received. We are truly living our mission through this trip.”
About a dozen people from the Stein Residence have signed up so far. They include Lee Cohen, 96, who jumped at the chance to go. A naturalized citizen who emigrated from Lithuania as a child, she had never had a passport before now.
Inspiration for the trip came from one undertaken by a similar senior living campus in Connecticut. Stein executive director Anna Simmons saw a video of the trip they undertook. She showed it to Kott, who was moved to tears. “It was so beautiful,” Kott told NJ Jewish News. “They said there’s a lot of hard work involved but it can be done, and I like a challenge.”
Even those who are unable to handle the trip will be touched by the experience. In August, at the suggestion of Wilf Campus marketing director Toby Ehrlich, residents created a “Western Wall” using painted shoeboxes. They wrote prayers and messages on scrolls of paper that they slipped between the “stones.” The travelers will take those messages with them and insert them into the real Kotel.
Kinzbrunner said most of the residents aren’t able to take part in the trip because of physical infirmity, “but with this undertaking, a piece of them can join us on the trip.”
Most of the participants have been to Israel before. Kinzbrunner said for them it is a chance to “relive memories of younger days.” For those going for the first time, it is a dream they weren’t able to fulfill before. “In a sense,” he said, “I believe that our residents all feel some sort of emotional pull to be in the land of their ancestors, to walk where they walked and get a better feel for being Jewish.”
Ehrlich said it might be possible to include seniors on the trip who are not Wilf campus residents. For more information, contact her at 732-568-1155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
She said that they are also hoping to make more trips to Israel in the future and that the foundation would welcome donations. For more information or to make a donation to the Wilf Campus Foundation, contact Susan Harris at email@example.com or call 732-568-1155.