By Michael Jacobs/mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Summer is prime time for mission trips to Israel, and at least three Atlanta-area synagogues are planning such rabbi-led trips this year: The Temple, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Or Hadash.

“Israel is not a vacation; it’s a pilgrimage,” Rabbi Scott Colbert said. “It is an opportunity to increase the awareness not only of their personal connection to the Jewish people and with our Jewish heritage — increase their own personal spirituality — but it’s an opportunity to understand the geopolitical nature of what’s going on in the Middle East.”

Rabbi Colbert is preparing to lead his 11th trip with Emanu-El but his first since becoming the Sandy Spring congregation’s senior rabbi. It’s the synagogue’s first Israel trip since 2011.

“As a rabbi and as somebody who is in love with the land of Israel … very few thing give me more pleasure than to take people to Israel, to show them the land through my eyes, to kind of create a connection,” Or Hadash Rabbi Mario Karpuj said.

Rabbi Karpuj and his wife, Rabbi Analia Bortz, lead a congregational trip to Israel every other year.

The Temple also organizes Israel trips every other year, but The Temple does the trick in triplicate: three separate if overlapping trips, one for teens, one for adults and one for families.

“The Temple is all about engaging relationships,” said Rabbi Steven Rau, the Midtown congregation’s director of lifelong learning. “Since 2011, we’re seen a whole new form of engagement arise.”

Congregants who join synagogue trips to Israel not only become more connected with the Jewish homeland, but also become more connected with The Temple as a whole, Rabbi Rau said.

 

The Temple

The three Temple trips are on different schedules with different itineraries, but all three will be in Israel for Shabbat on June 20, when 15 12- and 13-year-olds on the family trip will become b’nai mitzvah at Beit Shmuel overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City. The 5:30 p.m. Mincha service will be streamed live to the morning Shabbat service at The Temple.

With the participants on the three trips, plus about 40 additional friends and family there just for the b’nai mitzvah, that service will bring together about 200 members of The Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Rau said the family trip, open to Temple members and their guests, has 85 participants. The trip costs $3,080 per person, plus airfare, and runs from June 16 to 28. It gained two families just two weeks ago and could take more, but he doesn’t expect much change.

The adult trip is June 10 to 22. With a new focus on health and wellness, the $3,985-per-person trip sold out all 45 seats in a week, something that never happened before. Rabbi Rau said the trip could have sold more seats, but organizers wanted to limit it to one bus.

The adult trip lacked a central theme the past few times and seemed to lack some enthusiasm, so the health and wellness theme was added to appeal to the interests of many adults, especially young adults.

The Temple’s newest pulpit rabbi, David Spinrad, used to be a personal trainer. He will lead the adult trip with Cantor Deborah Hartman and will provide some higher-intensity exercise and training options.

The trip will include healthier dining options, Torah yoga, and a mikvah experience in Tzfat for men and women.

The teen trip, something The Temple has run for rising high school juniors and seniors since 2005, also is sold out with 30 teens, plus chaperones. Seats on the June 8-21 trip started at $2,225 plus airfare. Rabbi Rau said the trip is crucial to build teen engagement with The Temple.

“This is one of our crucial learning points of The Temple as a whole,” he said, adding that the trip creates a lifetime connection with The Temple.

The teen trip is so important that Rabbi Rau said participants on the family trip are told of the expectation that the youth participants will take the teen trip in the future.

“We’re strengthening our community and the love and passion our congregants have for Israel,” Rabbi Rau said.

 

Congregation Or Hadash

Or Hadash is limiting its Israel trip to one busload, so it has room for 10 to 12 more people to join the 25 to 28 who have signed up, Rabbi Karpuj said.

The trip will run June 7 to 21 at a cost of $3,895 per person, plus airfare. Congregants have the first shot at registration, but Rabbi Karpuj said he welcomes anyone to join the trip.

“We kind of know what we’re doing, so we try to make sure every trip is different and has something new for people coming and for us,” he said.

Adding new elements to the regular trips keeps them fresh for return travelers, he said.

One new element this year will be a scavenger hunt in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. The Or Hadash group also will visit some high-tech organizations for the first time.

The trip “creates a strong bond with the people who are traveling in the group,” Rabbi Karpuj said. “There’s a strong shared experience.”

Contact Rabbi Karpuj at 404-250-3338 or rabbimario@gmail.com if you’re interesting in the trip.

 

Temple Emanu-El

Emanu-El’s trip runs slightly later than the others, from June 22 to July 3. The $5,990 price includes airfare.

“It’s time to do another one,” Rabbi Colbert said, explaining that interest has built up since the last congregational trip in 2011. “Israel has changed over the last couple of years. It’s been a long time since we went. So we’re going.”

He likes to limit the trip to one bus and, within the bus, to sell only 25 to 30 seats so that everyone has an extra seat for spreading out. That number keeps the trip intimate and fun, he said.

In addition to the usual religious and historic sites, Rabbi Colbert likes to hit out-of-the-way places and do unusual activities, such as going on civil patrol one year and helping fight a forest fire another.

The trip is for adults, Rabbi Colbert said, “but I’m more than happy to have a bar or bat mitzvah.”

This group combines return Israel visitors and first-timers and has an itinerary to appeal to both. The trip will have at least one cooking class with a five-star Tel Aviv chef, a winery tasting, a meeting with new immigrants from France, a visit with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, speedboating in the north and the Ramon Crater in the Negev.

Four years ago, the Emanu-El group toured Pillcam maker Given Industries, and Rabbi Colbert said he intends to visit another exemplar of Israeli industry so people can get an idea of the importance of Israeli technology to the nation’s economy and to the world.

Anyone may join the Emanu-El trip. Rabbi Colbert said past trips have included people from out of state. Contact him at scolbert@temple-emanuel.net, or call the synagogue at 770-395-1340.

“They can see how the country, this very young country,” he said, “has grown from a pioneer country to being one of the most sophisticated economies in the world.”