Tidewater Hineni! group experiences Israel together

July 14, 2017

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On an early Tuesday morning in June, 14 new graduates of the Tidewater Hineni! Leadership Program landed in Israel for the culmination of their two-year program. The 5th UJFT Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel was underway.

Day 1
The mission began with an opportunity to connect with the land of Israel, as the group planted trees at the Biblical garden of Ne’ot Kedumim. The group then moved to the heart of Tel Aviv, where they heard the voice of Ben Gurion declaring “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” And so began the start of an amazing whirlwind tour through ancient and recent history, through the present, and into the hope for the future of Israel.

Day 2
From Tel Aviv, the group headed up the coast, stopping at the Tidewater-supported Neve Michael Youth Village in Pardes Hanna. The group toured the campus, as Hava Lavene, the director, described the services provided to the kids, how they got there, some of their (dire) circumstances, and how Neve Michael takes care of them. “Some people think that it’s a sad place,” she said. “I think it’s a happy, hopeful place. These children are lucky to be here, in a place that nurtures and cares for them, keeps them safe, and meets their needs. It’s terrible that they had to come here, but the alternative to Neve Michael is often times too awful to think about.”

Continuing north on the coastal highway, the group arrived at the seaside community of Kiryat Yam. The Tidewater Federation funds a variety of programs and agencies in Kiryat Yam, and the Hofheimer Mission group visited several of them. Beginning at the ORT Levinson High-school where the mission participants and high-school students worked together on an art project which will now hang in the school’s gallery, the group then moved to the Federation-funded JDC Center for Young Adults, where they met with old friends (community members who visited Tidewater last September).

After the CYA, the mission visited another Tidewater supported site—the JDC’s Early Childhood Center. Here, the group learned about at-risk families who utilize the center for parenting classes, early intervention assessment and services, and to come together as a community.

Day 3
At a school in Tsfat, the group visited with young students in a Jewish Agency program called “Youth Futures.” YF is designed for at-risk students (many from poor families) to provide afterschool programming, a structured and safe environment for children who might otherwise find themselves in trouble. The professionals serve as mentors and, in some cases, confidantes to children with troubled home lives.

Next stop: the winding alleyways of the mystical city of Tsfat. After a brief lesson in Kabbalah and tours of the famous synagogues, the group indulged in a bit of “retail therapy” as they shopped for artwork, Judaica, and lots of beautiful candles. From Israeli art to Israeli wine, the group went for lunch and a tasting at the Galil Winery.

The winery was followed by an ATV tour of the Syrian border, where the group learned about the area’s geopolitics—this time with full sound effects, as explosions were heard in the background.

Day 4
The group next headed south toward Jerusalem, stopping along the way at various sites in the Judean hills. On entering Jerusalem, they stopped at Hebrew University to take in a scenic overview of the city and say a Sheheheyanu prayer. After wondering the crowded Friday stalls of the Machne Yehuda market, they checked in at the hotel to prepare for Shabbat at the Kotel, followed by a late dinner and study session with Avraham Infeld.

Day 5
Early in the morning, most found themselves climbing the snake path up Masada to learn the story of the martyrs and discuss the lessons learned from the story. While on Masada, the group encountered a different kind of mission—one it would run into several times over the following days—a group of professional American NFL players, in Israel courtesy of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Masada was followed by floating in the Dead Sea, where the NFL players, including Virginia Beach local Bruce Smith, took photos with some of the Hofheimer participants, during lunch at the hotel. Saturday afternoon, the group toured the Jewish Quarter of the Old City before an early evening study session with Avraham Infeld (Part II ), Havdalah, and a late-night Western Wall tunnel tour.

Day 6
The group headed to Har Herzl to learn the Ethiopian Israeli story from Micha Feldman. The discussion took place at the Monument to Ethiopians Who Died en Route to Israel. The mission returned to Har Herzl later in the day to discuss the unique aspects of Israel’s largest military cemetery and to pay respects to the fallen soldiers…the “silver platter on which the Jewish state was given,” remarked guide, Zalman Spivak—quoting the poem by Natan Alterman.

Entering Yad VaShem to tour “the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust,” the group was met by guide Hazy Flint, who pointed out particular exhibits and explained their significance within the context of the Holocaust. After the tour, Holocaust educator Rachel Korazim, engaged the group in an interactive exercise asking: Why did the Holocaust take place? For the purposes of the exercise, Korazim asked that the “answers” be viewed through the lenses of ultra-orthodox and secular ideologies in the 1940s and 50s.

Next was a special briefing at JDC headquarters in Jerusalem. The conversation moved from country to country, throughout Europe with emphasis on Tidewater-funded programs in Hungary and Romania.

Day 7
The mission’s final day began with an archaeological tour of the City of David, after which the group came “full-circle,” back to Tel Aviv, stopping en route to visit the Federation’s Project Renewal Community at Pardes Katz. The group toured the Matnas, taking pride in the plaques and banners gracing the walls of the building, recognizing the support of the Tidewater community and individual Tidewater donors. Before leaving Pardes Katz, the group was treated to an amazing performance by students in the Matnas’ music program. Next stop was the Tidewater-funded JDC Center for Independent Living in Tel Aviv, where the group met director Roie Rothman and some of the Center’s members—adults with disabilities—who spoke eloquently about the lifeline that the CIL has become for people who would otherwise be isolated, lonely, and on the fringes. Because of CIL, they have a community, access to classes, information, advocacy, and many other value added services.

After a group discussion, reviewing the length and breadth of the mission, the group departed for a farewell dinner and then the airport, for an interesting check-in experience and a smooth flight home. – Amy Zelenka

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