Sarah Portilla has escorted four Birthright groups — the free trips for Jewish youth — to Israel, but this fall she will be leading her first “Birthright-style” trip for adults.
Although the trip will not be free, it will aim for the kind of bonding and discovery that young people experience on what is often their first organized trip to Israel.
Portilla, a former associate director for new initiatives at the Rutgers Hillel, was appointed development manager for the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County last November. She is coordinating a three-part major tourism mission to Israel for the federation, from Oct. 26 to Nov 3.
“There’s never a dull moment on any of these trips,” she said, “so I expect there won’t be this time either.”
The “Birthright” — or “highlights” — itinerary is just one of three the federation is offering; it is ideal for a first-time visitor or those who haven’t been in a long time.
However, the Birthright model is being modified for the adult participants — like scheduling more leisure and flexibility. “We like to keep the young people busy all the time,” Portilla said. But a very full program is planned for the Monmouth travelers, including visits to major attractions like the Old City of Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, and the Golan Heights.
Another group will focus on “the finer things,” like art museums and gourmet dining. The third group will get a “behind-the-breakthroughs” view of parts of Israel’s innovative high-tech world and its medical advances.
Though most of the participants are expected to be from Monmouth, Middlesex, and Ocean counties, the trip is open to whoever wants to join in. The groups will travel on separate buses, each with its own guides, but all three groups will link up at different points.
“Some things we’ll do together — like seeing the light and sound show at Masada, or visiting a Bedouin tent,” Portilla said. “And everyone will spend Shabbat together in Jerusalem.”
Federation board member Sheryl Horowitz of Manalapan, who is the Birthright (for youth) coordinator for Monmouth County, revived the idea for a Birthright-type trip for adults (the federation had developed a similar idea for an earlier trip that was not carried out). She went to Israel with the federation in 2012, just before her son went on Birthright that December.
“The intense sense of connection our group felt seemed so similar to what he experienced, it made me think that we should plan to do a trip like theirs,” she said.
Horowitz said she relished the friendships formed among the 2012 participants, whose ages ranged from the 40s to the 80s. “It was an amazing bonding experience,” she said.
Lauren Reich, also of Manalapan, chaired the 2012 trip and is cochairing this one with another Manalapan resident, JoAnn Abraham. Reich was the Birthright coordinator before handing over the role to Horowitz.
For the group taking part in the Birthright-style itinerary, Reich said, “we won’t get people up at the crack of dawn the way they do with the kids, but they will be seeing Israel in a way you don’t on your own, and sharing those kinds of experiences brings you so close.”
Already more than 50 people have signed up — spread among the three itineraries — “and we’re hoping for 150 to 200,” Portilla said.