The 2018 Community Trip to Israel was a transformative journey like no other to our Jewish homeland. The 43 travelers from the Puget Sound Jewish community and beyond who took part in the trip experienced Israel’s ancient heritage and its dynamic present. They explored facets of Israeli life that shined new lights on Israel’s technological savvy, entrepreneurial buzz, rich culture, and diverse people.
The trip, planned and organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, built community — in Israel and after the participants returned home. “Organizations like the Federation exist to be that conduit of relationship, to facilitate relationships, enrich relationships. That’s why we do this,” says David Isenberg, who co-chaired the trip with his wife, Lorna Isenberg. In meeting the goal of building community, Lorna says, “the trip exceeded our expectations.”
The journey brought together a cross-section of people, some who had been to Israel many times, like David and Julie Ellenhorn, and others making their first visit. The trip, says David, was an opportunity for first-timers “to get to know the community and become involved.”
First-timer Scott Isaacs says the trip was a chance “to see the environment and to see something interesting that we would not have experienced if we had made the trip on our own.”
The group toured Tel Aviv, traveled through Israel’s north, and celebrated Shabbat and Havdalah on their visit to Jerusalem, concluding the journey by planting trees at the Neot Kedumim nature preserve.
Tel Aviv lived up to its reputation as a busy metropolis pulsing with nonstop energy. Upon arriving at 4 a.m. on a weeknight, Julie Ellenhorn recalls with a laugh, “it might as well have been 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in New York.”
A highlight was witnessing the confluence of the Jewish ethic of tikkun olam with Israel’s technological flair at a Tel Aviv WeWork tech center, where tech experts with Tikkun Olam Makers create ingenious solutions helping people with disabilities overcome everyday life challenges.
“What I found interesting was not so much the pure technology, but the connection between being a strong entrepreneurial nation and the strong focus on improving the greater good,” Scott Isaacs observes.
Tel Aviv’s cultural scene is not as well-known as the city’s tech prowess, but the Rubin Museum, street art tour, and the iconic Maskit fashion house made lasting impressions.
Another Tel Aviv highlight was dinner with Daniel Shapiro, who served as US ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017 and now is a distinguished visiting fellow for the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Shapiro was “articulate and knowledgeable,” Lorna Isenberg says.
Leaving Tel Aviv, the group traveled through Israel’s north. They got a first-hand look at the Ecological Greenhouse at Kibbutz Ein Shemer and at Moona — A Space for Change, which bring Jewish and Arab Israelis together to study, work, and play together. The group also enjoyed the generous hospitality of an Arab village while engaging in frank conversation with the villagers.
Lorna Isenberg says the group appreciated that “young Arabs were willing to come and talk to us.” Adds David Isenberg: “Even though you’re not going to hear what you want to hear. We didn’t come to any solutions, and sometimes questions lead to more questions.”
Questions reveal new perspectives about the complex security issues in which Israel is immersed. On the Golan Heights, close to the Syrian border, the trip-goers heard from a lieutenant colonel in the IDF reserves who engaged with the group in, as Brad Smith recalls, a “very intense” but “very collegial” discussion about Israel’s humanitarian work helping Syrian civilians caught up in that country’s civil war.
The conversation showed that Israel’s security concerns are layered and more complex than may be apparent to Americans living thousands of miles away. “What we see over here is not exactly the same as over there. The information here may be filtered, may be incomplete,” Lynne Smith notes.
Layers of complexity are immediately apparent in Jerusalem, where the ancient and the modern juxtapose in a city of remarkable diversity. “Such a city of contrasts!” Lynne exclaims.
And sensations. The Mahane Yehuda Market, Lynne remembers, is “very sensory. You’re bombarded visually, with all the smells and people shouting.” Or, as David Isenberg describes the market: “Pike Place on steroids.”
For first-timers on the trip, entering the global heart of Judaism created a palpable sense of excitement. As Scott Isaacs recalls, “Tel Aviv could be a cosmopolitan city anywhere. In Jerusalem, I felt more of a connection.” And for people who have been to Israel before, there is nothing routine about standing atop Mount Scopus and seeing the Jerusalem of Gold. “It’s always moving to come in and have that first look,” David Ellenhorn says.
A diverse country features a diverse cuisine that brought smiles to everyone on the journey. What were the favorites? There was the Druze restaurant serving up a lunch spread of falafel, hummus, and much more. And the lunch served by an Arab family, with baba ganoush, cucumber and tomato salads. And the Lag B’Omer bonfire and barbecue, featuring a selection of Israeli wines.
The Lag B’Omer celebration was “the part of the trip where the whole group bonded,” Julie Ellenhorn remembers.
In other words, as Lynne Smith says, the trip’s “goals were achieved. It created a community and forged a stronger connection with Israel.”
Keeping that connection alive is what builds community, the Isenbergs point out. As David notes, “What you do with it is the question. You have an opportunity to pour yourself into that connection and make it richer, more important in your life.”