Before Tidewater had Missions

April 9, 2018

Other News

Arnold Leon

In 1964, Telsa and I attended the national UJA conference in New York City. While there, I noticed a meeting of a “Young Leadership Reunion.” Curious, I went in. A caucus was taking place with people who had been to Israel. Intrigued, I found out that the UJA New York office was planning another Mission for the following summer. At that time, no groups had gone to Israel from Tidewater. Telsa and I and Leon and Selma Cardin signed up for the three-week trip.

The trip left from JFK in July 1965. First, we spent time in Paris learning about Jewish communities and their problems.

From Paris, we flew to Vienna, Austria. At that time, Jews that managed to escape Russia went to Vienna where they had a facility that indoctrinated and prepared the Jewish families for life in Israel. Run by the JDC, it was somewhat clandestine.

After a week in Vienna, we flew to Israel, with approximately 20 of the Russian emigres on the plane. It was very emotional when we landed, as many of the Russians bent down and kissed the ground.

We traveled all around the country. In 1965, Jerusalem was divided. As a matter of fact, staying at the King David Hotel, we could see the Jordanian line—which was just behind the hotel’s gardens—complete with the machine guns positioned facing us. We couldn’t go the Wall; Beersheba still had dirt roads; Ashdod was just being built. While there, we met with Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Teddy Kollek (who became the mayor of Jerusalem), Yitzkah Rabin, David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Abba Eban—basically all of the early leaders! It was an incredible trip.

When we came home, we told the Federation leaders about the trip and soon after, the community got the ‘Mission Bug’ and started organizing trips from Tidewater.

I’ve been many more times. We took Steve there for his Bar Mitzvah in 1973 and David for his in 1977. On the 1973 trip, we were the first commercial plane to land at the airport after the Yom Kippur War. In fact, we landed next to U.S. 1. The Israelis were negotiating the peace treaty in the dining room of the King David Hotel when we arrived. We were told we couldn’t get into our room because “the Kissinger party still had the room.” Oh well. I told them to tell him, “To take all the time he needs.”

During Governor Chuck Robb’s administration, we were invited on the Virginia-Israel Mission to Israel. It was very successful and we returned with the agreement with ZIM to use the Port of Hampton Roads.

Every experience is different and unique, and I always highly recommend for people to travel to Israel.

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