The “Rediscover Israel Mission” being organized by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey is billed as a trip for those who have never been before, or haven’t been there for a while.
Jessica Mehlman, the federation’s assistant director of financial resource development and its point person for the April trip, said that even those who have been in recent years will find much that is new.
“Amazing things are happening,” she said, “and this is a chance to see where Israel will be going in the future.”
Some of the most exciting change is taking place in the Negev, an area where the federation is involved in a number of projects — through its Jewish Community Foundation and its Partnership 2000 connection with the Arad and Tamar region. The group will spend a couple of days in the area, visiting Arad and Be’er Sheva and meeting with local leaders.
The Central travelers will be able to tour Masada, swim in the Dead Sea, and celebrate Israel’s Independence Day in true Israeli fashion — with a barbecue and festivities involving some of Israel’s newest immigrants.
To add a new dimension, participants will have the option of going to Egypt for four days. They will be accompanied by an experienced Israeli guide, Mehlman said, who is well versed in Jewish travel to the country.
Barbara Rood, who is chairing the mission with her husband, Howard, said she is particularly excited about that opportunity. “I always said that as soon as they opened the border with Egypt, I wanted to go. I’m very, very excited about it.”
Asked if she was at all nervous about going to Egypt, she brushed that idea aside with a counter-question: “Are you nervous going into New York? You can get killed stepping off the sidewalk.”
After spending Shabbat in Jerusalem, where participants can experience the sights and sounds of Israel’s capital from various perspectives — including the rooftops — the group will travel to Tel Aviv. There they will have the opportunity to participate in celebrations marking Tel Aviv’s 100th anniversary.
Rood has a special feeling for that too. She remembers her uncle, an early-20th-century immigrant from Russia, telling his niece that he was among the pioneers who had helped build Tel Aviv when it was just swampland, working with their bare hands and dealing with the difficult terrain and the threat of malaria.
In Tel Aviv, the group will explore markets, museums, and the city’s renowned architectural gems. They will also have the option of traveling for a day up north to visit ancient ruins, the Golan Heights, and the mystical city of Safed.
Rood, who lives in Scotch Plains, is an interior designer. She and her husband have three children, all living in close proximity to them, and six grandchildren. She is a past president of what used to be the Central NJ Jewish Home for the Aged in Somerset, a life member of Hadassah, and a longtime federation activist. Supporting Israel has been an integral part of her community engagement.
Their first trip to Israel was for their daughter’s bat mitzva not long after the Six-Day War. The first mission she went on was in 1974, soon after the Yom Kippur War, when they saw a nation in mourning. She was there again, with a women’s mission, not long after the 2000 Second Intifada — and felt the intense gratitude Israelis showed those who came to show solidarity.
She and Howard felt “it was time to go again,” she said. “The missions are wonderful for us, and they’re wonderful for the Israelis. They really understand that we’re brothers — landsmen. And we go to places that we support as a federation; we see where our money goes, and the people there are very appreciative.”
Those who go with a federation group, she said, “get to see and do things you could never do on your own, and you get inside information and you meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Israel needs to know we’re there for them, not just with our money, but with moral support.”