November is still a long way off, but Erica Needle and Sharon Rockman are deep into the planning stages of a 10-day exploration of Israel’s diverse ethnic and religious communities.
The two Scotch Plains residents, friends, and longtime members of the JCC of Central New Jersey are cochairing the first group trip to Israel organized by the JCC, which is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
From Nov. 8 to 18, participants will see sides of Israel that even veteran travelers may not have had the opportunity to see: minority communities in the Galilee, fervently Orthodox neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, and an Israeli Aerospace Industries facility.
“You’ll get to go behind the scenes and see things you’d never get to see on the regular tourist trip,” said Rockman, who previously who cochaired a Jewish Federation of Central NJ trip to Israel with her husband Ron, to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. “We want to bring people from here to see different types of communities in Israel, and to bring a fresh view of Israel back to this community.”
The trip, called “Israel: A Mosaic of Communities,” is open to both members and nonmembers.
“We’ve been before on missions and personal visits,” Needle said, “and we expect that most of the people who come will have been before, but this will be a chance to make contact with people there and to get to know the country in a different way.”
Rockman and Needle said that for some time now, the JCC has wanted to have more Israel-oriented activities. The idea for the trip took shape a couple of years ago at a meeting hosted by the JCC Association — the umbrella organization covering the Jewish Community Centers of North America. Barak Hermann, the former executive director of the Central JCC, attended with immediate past president Suzanne Tucker.
The itinerary might still change as circumstances change, but as of now it includes, in addition to sightseeing, a meeting with a parents’ group with both Jewish and Arab members, a dinner specially catering to the blind, a visit to the Kineret Cemetery, a graffiti tour, and — as Rockman said, with the smile of one with fond memories of Israel, “shopping and generally eating very well.”
Participants will make their own flight arrangements, or they can find out about group bookings from Rockman. There will be opportunities to do things alone, so if it is a first visit, Rockman said, “you will have a chance to visit the places” that everyone should see.
June Fischer is not a JCC member, but when she heard about the trip, it immediately appealed to her. A longtime political activist on the local and national level, she has been to Israel twice before — in 2000 with former NJ Gov. Jon Corzine, and 33 years ago, with her husband. “We celebrated our 25th anniversary on Masada, at five in the morning,” she recalled. “My husband and I did everything together, but now he is in an Alzheimer care facility. I thought on a trip like this, I could be among friends, with like-minded people.”
The next parlor meeting to spread the word will be on Tuesday, March 18. The organizers are hoping those interested will confirm participation in April, and pay their deposit by May 1. Full payment will be due on Sept. 1.