JERUSALEM — Building personal connections between New Jersey families and Israel was the objective of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s first Family Mission to Israel, according to its executive director, Keith Krivitzky.
The trip also built connections among its diverse participants, who came from a variety of backgrounds.
“Only Jewish federation could have made this trip possible,” said Rabbi Donald Weber of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro. “We have Modern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews all seeing the country together, many of them for the first time,” Weber participated in the mission with his wife, Rabbi Shira Stern, and 12 members of their synagogue. “Witnessing Israel through the eyes of such a diverse group has been fantastic,” he said. “When kids see how adults relate to Israel, it changes them. And when adults see Israel through children’s eyes, it renews their own connection with Israel.”
Fifty people, including 18 children, attended the trip from July 28 to Aug. 8. The tour included a b’nei mitzva ceremony at the Marc Chagall “windows” chapel at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem, as well as visits to Arad — the federation’s sister community through the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether project — and a program for special-needs children in Jerusalem.
Celebrating becoming b’nei mitzva were Daniel Bloomfield, the son of mission chairs Albert and Marnee Bloomfield of Ocean Township, and Sarah Schildkraut, daughter of Debbie and Brett Schildkraut of Edison.
Marnee Bloomfield, who also heads the Ocean Township chapter of Hadassah, addressed mission members at the ceremony, under the stained-glass windows donated to the hospital by famed artist Chagall in 1962.
“Debbie Schildkraut and I met at a Hadassah women’s leadership meeting three years ago in Israel, and we vowed we would reunite in Israel to celebrate our children’s bar and bat mitzva,” Bloomfield said. “This is such a meaningful day and place for us, and we are happy that so many families were able to join this special federation mission.”
Shirley Bloomfield of Ocean Township watched her grandson become a bar mitzva in Jerusalem 30 years after her son Albert did so at the Kotel.
“I feel joy in connecting to the Jewish homeland and the Jewish people, and I am in awe of the ingenuity of Israelis and their ability to rebuild every time they were knocked down,” she said. “As an artist, I am inspired by the rocks and stones of Israel that are so worn from the hands and feet of those who came before us. I took so many photos during this trip that I probably have enough subjects to paint until the end of my life.”
Weber and Stern led a marriage vow renewal ceremony for two couples on the mission. Cindi and Richard Kaplin of Marlboro renewed their vows on their 30th anniversary in the Old City of Jaffa, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Also reaffirming their marriage were Lisa and Irwin Kizel of Manalapan, who celebrated their 25th anniversary in May.
“We have had a wonderful feeling of connection since we arrived in Israel,” Richard Kaplin said. “It means a lot to us to renew our vows and to feel so much at home in this remarkable country.”
Eleven members of the Barofsky family were on the mission, said Jonathan Barofsky of Ocean Township, including his wife, Dawn, and three daughters; his parents, Norman and Regina of Monroe Township; his brother Kenneth of Manalapan and Kenneth’s two children; and his niece Elyse Foladare of East Brunswick.
“Although we had promised my dad that we would take our kids to Israel before they finish high school, he wasn’t convinced that we would pull it off,” Barofsky said. “So he paid for all 11 of us just to make sure we would see Israel together.”
Although Barry Barber of Manalapan attended the trip alone, he immediately felt like part of the family, he told NJJN. Barber said he wept while reciting Kaddish over a pavement stone at Hadassah Medical Center laid in memory of his wife, Susan.
“I knew this was a family trip, but I said why not? I figured I would meet people here,” said Barber. “I was really moved when people who I had just met shed tears with me and offered me a hug.”
Plans are under way for federation’s next mission to Israel, from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3, 2014. Modeled as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” program, that mission will partner with federations from Ocean, Mercer, and Middlesex counties, said Krivitzky, and participants will be able to choose from various tracks, including active adults, high tech, and one for medical professionals with continuing education credits.