They called us “first timers” - My experience from UJA’s Centennial Journey

In November, Samantha and I returned from our first trip to Israel. We joined the 100th Anniversary Journey of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. This was the largest mission to the holy land in more than 20 years – 352 participants! About 60 of us were “first-timers”.

During the eight-day trip we covered a lot of ground. We visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem - Kabbalat Shabbat on the southern steps of the old city, Eilat, Kibbutz Eilot and Haifa, and we also met with family in Modiin. Our tours covered many sites, including the ruins at Caesarea, Atlit (site of the British internment  refugee camp), The Kotel and Western Wall Tunnels, , The Israel Museum (home of the Dead Sea Scrolls), The Museum of the Jewish People, Masada, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem and many community centres, schools and universities. In each place, city mayors, leaders of the community and icons like Natan Sharansky spoke to our group. We experienced many emotional moments sitting among our fellow travellers and we pinched ourselves – not believing we were actually there! We loved every minute and have nothing but praise and thanks to the many UJA Federation staff, volunteers and organizers from Da’at tours in Israel. The thought and planning that went into this trip were outstanding making it truly a trip of a lifetime for everyone.

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and Israel Engagement

On this special mission to Israel, the UJA pulled out all the stops to show us the incredible impact we, as a Toronto Federation, have across Israel. We visited Sderot, the closest city to the Gaza Strip. Our 16-year-old guide showed us the city and spoke about how the UJA began supporting the fortification of this city years ago. Now, schools, bus shelters and community centres are built to provide safe shelter – within 15 seconds from almost anywhere in the city. In Rehovot, we visited a UJA Community Centre where we met with grade 6 students who showed us their artwork, science, health and other projects. Seeing the logo and name of Toronto Federation on these beautiful buildings and institutions clearly showed our impact as one of the most active and supportive Jewish communities outside Israel.

It was also very sweet of Rabbi Benjie Gruber to meet us in our hotel in Eilat! We spent time with him talking about how his family is adjusting to life on a Kibbutz back in Israel. He also talked about how much he and his family enjoyed being part of our warm and welcoming THZ community.

Visiting with our Shinshinim

I truly feel that the Shinshinim program is a big part of why Sam and I were so excited and engaged to visit Israel. We’ve been very fortunate to host Shins twice. Three years ago, we had Asaf Greenshtain stay with us and last year we had Itamar Kristovsky. Getting involved in the program at THZ allowed us to meet many of these incredible young ambassadors, and at the end of our trip we spent time with both Asaf in Tel Aviv and Itamar and his family in Haifa. We have a connection with these young men that our entire family treasures, and we would strongly encourage ALL Temple families to consider hosting. Another highlight of our trip was having lunch with Dan Saar, Neta Doron, Lee Balzar and Ayellet Shalit on the beach in Tel Aviv, and seeing Noam Touati, another past Shin, at Shabbat dinner. The Shinshinim even got to drive us around! With the Shinshinim program now in it’s 11th year, Toronto is hosting the 26 Shinshinim this year, which is the largest contingent of Shinshinim outside of Israel. If you have any questions about what’s involved in hosting one of these young people, please contact me.

Lasting memories

At our welcome dinner, we told Rabbi Grover of Beth Tikvah that it was our first trip to Israel. He said to us “Don’t think of this trip as visiting another country, but know that this is also your country and that you’re always welcome here.” With so many connections to Shinshinim, family and the people we travelled with, we hope to return with our family to share this experience together.

Beyond the Shinshinim program, there are other UJA opportunities such as Birthright trips, the Diller Teen Fellowship and March for the Living, all of which can help create strong connections to Israel.

Don’t forget that our current Shinshinim, Idan and Roni, are here at THZ this year to bring Israel to life for all of us. One way to do experience Israel through the eyes of our Shins is to attend their monthly Culture Clubs and interact with them at services. Their next Culture Club is on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

See you there!



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