By Lauren Abes
The director of a program for at-risk youngsters in Sderot, Israel, recalled those days a year earlier when rockets lobbed from Gaza rained down on Israel and alerts to seek shelter were sounded multiple times each day and night.
Earlier that day, we had visited a kibbutz on the Gaza border. There, an older resident pointed to a tree — the very tree where a rocket lobbed from Gaza had landed, fatally injuring a friend of his.
I met these two Israelis in October as part of a Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta trip that gave me new insights into Israel and its people. The kibbutz resident’s resolve that Israel and the kibbutz remain his home despite the falling rockets and the director’s dedication to her young charges despite her own fears were salient reminders of why it’s so important for me to visit Israel on Jewish Federation missions.
These missions go well beyond tourist sites and provide an opportunity to meet with Israelis from all walks of life, allowing me to speak directly with people helped by Federation dollars and better understand why our Federation system is so important. Each time I visit Israel, I become more inspired and fall deeper in love with its amazing beauty and people.
This year I will travel back to Israel as co-chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Summer Mission to Israel. The July mission will give us opportunities to see firsthand Federation-supported Jewish Agency for Israel and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee projects, to hear from security experts, to participate in the fun activities that Israel has to offer, and to bond with a peer group while creating amazing memories.
In the Galilee, we’ll meet with participants in the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2gether Peoplehood Platform, which connects 450 North American Jewish and Israeli communities in 46 partnerships.
Overlooking Emek Habacha (known as the valley of tears) in Israel’s north, we’ll have a security briefing with reserve Brig. Gen. Avigdor Kahalani, one of Israel’s most decorated combat officers, and will be witness to a military drill.
In Tel Aviv we’ll learn about Hagal Sheli (My Wave), a Jewish Agency program that uses water sports and outdoor activities to help disadvantaged youths develop self-empowerment and team building. Later that day, we’ll divide into different tracks focusing on Israel’s food and wine, art and architecture, defense, and high-tech industry.
Our packed agenda also will include our own team building in Tel Aviv as we join with Masa participants from various countries in an Amazing Tel Aviv Race, competing to solve historical, geographical, political and cultural riddles across the city.
With each activity — whether it’s one that has us meeting with Israelis or doing something simply for fun — we’ll find ourselves growing closer to one another, creating long-lasting friendships.
More information and registration for the mission July 4 to 10 are available at www.jewishfederations.org/calendar/nyl-summer-mission-to-israel-2016. The cost, not including airfare, is $2,599, plus a minimum gift of $500 to your local Federation.
As someone who believes strongly in the concept of Jewish peoplehood and the well-being of Israel, I relish these opportunities to go to Israel and look forward this time to doing so as part of a national group of professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s. It is up to our generation to ensure that the Jewish Federation movement continues.
Lauren Abes is a member of the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet and is excited to be one of the co-chairs of this summer’s mission to Israel. She is a strong believer in giving back and has deep passion for the state of Israel.