The 270 people who came from the “Heart of New Jersey” and surrounding areas on the Four Corners of Israel journey were repeatedly told that they were part of a chain of generations of Jews.
The participants in the Oct. 14-22 mission returned to New Jersey, many said, with a greater commitment to serve as a strong link in the chain that spans over 3,000 years for the Jewish people and 70 for the State of Israel. The visit was planned in honor of Israel’s milestone anniversary to enable the people representing the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey to see the accomplishments of the Jewish state and understand the challenges it faces.
Veteran Israel visitors were on the trip, and many of them stayed afterward for the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, which took place Oct. 22-24 in Tel Aviv.
But 80 percent of the mission participants were first-timers seeing Israel through fresh eyes.
“People get why it is important to be a strong link in the chain of the Jewish people when they come here and see how great the modern State of Israel is and imagine its future,” federation president Jeff Schwartz told NJJN on a visit to Kiryat Malachi, a development town in the Negev.
There were two tracks on the mission, he said, one for first-timers, the other for those who had been on previous federation trips to Israel.
The first-timers are also new to federation, said Schwartz, of South Brunswick, “so this trip allows us to connect them to Israel and Israelis and show them the good work we do, so they will one day hopefully step up and contribute to that good work.”
To that end, participants in the mission visited tourist sites like the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, the ancient Masada fortress, the mystical city of Safed, Caesarea and its ancient aqueduct, the Golan Heights, Haifa, Jaffa, and the beautiful Tel Dan Nature Reserve. But they also visited federation-funded projects aimed at improving the lives of ordinary Israelis.
Mission participants said their visit to the Palmachim Airbase, the military facility near Rishon Letzion on the Mediterranean coast, was emotional and inspiring; there they learned about Special in Uniform, an innovative program that integrates youth with disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces and helps prepare them for careers following army service.
They met young people from the Shutaf Inclusion Programs for teens with disabilities. And they participated in a “night patrol,” whose task is connecting teens in need of assistance with Crossroads Jerusalem, an organization that helps youth at risk in Israel’s capital.
“We’ve been to many places and seen different ways the federation is reaching out to disadvantaged people and giving them an opportunity to improve their lives,” said Michael Danziger of Long Branch. “It’s wonderful the federation continues finding new ways to make Israel grow. I compliment them that they’re helping so many different people who need help.”
There was also a day on the trip when participants were divided into groups that visited different coexistence projects, many of them over the Green Line in the territory called the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria.
For instance, on a visit to the ancient city of Hebron, participants joined local Jewish residents, Arab business leaders, and American investors for a meeting organized by Hebron’s spokesman, New Jersey native Yishai Fleischer. Many participants said the experience was made more meaningful by the surprise they felt at the cooperation they witnessed.
Adrienne Ross of Kendall Park, who was on her second visit in two years, said that when she comes to Israel, she does not feel the same divisions and divisiveness she currently feels in the United States due to the political climate. She admitted there are things she would change about Israel, but said she was willing to look past them.
“You will never be in love 100 percent with the policies of any country,” Ross said. “Do I find the egalitarian section of the Western Wall lacking? Yes. But will it make me not come here? No.”
The main complaint of the participants, it seemed, was that they were overwhelmed — with the development and advancement they saw in an Israel full of tourists from around the world.
“This Journey to the Four Corners of Israel was a great way to engage hundreds of people with Israel, with Jewish federation, and with the ways we make a meaningful impact in Israel,” said federation CEO Keith Krivitzky. “The majority of participants being first-time visitors to Israel was an awesome and unique aspect of this trip — and new to us — and most have already contributed to support the work of the federation in Israel and in the heart of New Jersey.
“Hopefully they will be ambassadors within the Jewish community and the broader community for Israel and for the Jewish federation.”
He said a highlight of the trip was New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s joining the mission for a Havdalah ceremony marking the end of what Krivitzky called “a magical Shabbat in Jerusalem.”
Murphy spoke about the growing business ties between New Jersey and Israel, which he helped cement on the visit, his sixth in the past four years but his first as governor. He signed an agreement between New Jersey and the Israel Innovation Authority on joint research and development projects (see page 4, Murphy).
Murphy told the mission participants about his plans to mobilize the full force of the law to combat anti-Semitism and intolerance.
“As a strong supporter of the Jewish people in New Jersey, in Israel, and around the world, I am honored to join hundreds of members of Jewish federations of New Jersey in the Holy Land,” Murphy said. In addition to the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ, the Four Corners of Israel Community Trip was organized and attended by the Jewish Federations of Southern NJ and Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties.