Israel holds such a very special place in my heart.
I feel so privileged to have traveled there nine times so far in my life: once with my parents and my brother, twice during school, four times with JCCA Association for professional development, once on a JCC family trip, and once with JCC staff. Our staff trip this past October/November was incredibly meaningful for me. This was the first time in my 20 years as a staff member of the Siegel JCC that we were able to make this kind of trip happen. I feel so proud and humbled by both the interest in the trip by our staff and the support from our community that allowed it to happen.
Our group of nine from Delaware were among 31 staff members from like-sized JCCs from around the country. The group was comprised of JCC professionals from all different work functions and backgrounds: from Early Childhood teachers to finance gurus, from singles to grandparents, from Jews to Christians. As such, our trip itinerary was different than any other trip I’ve traveled on. We visited several matnas (the Israeli version of the community center), heard from compelling speakers on Jewish identity, and saw many non-traditional sights.
On every trip I’ve traveled on, the Kotel (Western Wall) has been included, nonnegotiable. That makes sense to me. I understand the significance of the Wall to the Jewish people and to travelers to Israel as a whole. This trip was no different. We visited the tunnels of the Old City, left notes on the Kotel in the daytime, and celebrated Shabbat in the evening. I saw how moved each traveler was being there and having the opportunity to touch history.
However, during the day, we also made a stop at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. It was truly moving to me to see a different side of Jerusalem, but even more so, to see the response of my fellow travelers. To many, this site was a religious connection that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. I felt privileged to share in this meaningful moment with members of our J staff.
Another part of Israel that I’ve seen many times, is Tel Aviv. It represents the more modern part of Israel, the place with industry and nightlife. On this trip, I was able to see and experience Tel Aviv in a new light. Tel Aviv is the place where the nationalism of Judaism is beautifully visible. The city itself is shaped like a menorah, rather than a standard city grid, it faces towards Jerusalem, rather than the coastline, and many buildings are emblazoned with Jewish symbolism. The history of the city is astounding, having first been settled and modernized by 60 families, of whom the average age was 17 years old. It was a wonderful reminder about how youth are the wave of our future and have the capacity to do great things. This is even more poignant now, given the rise in youth activism in the United States.
Every time I visit Israel, I learn. Our JCC staff trip was one of my greatest learning experiences. I saw so many new sides to Israel, as if seeing the country with the same fresh eyes as those travelers who had come on their first trip. I feel grateful for the opportunity to continue my relationship with Israel and privileged to have shared it with other Jewish communal professionals. I look forward to continuing to share my learnings with my community and to return to Israel again when the time comes.