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Reflections on my Recent Trip to Israel

by Nancy Goldberg

It has been a month since I made the journey to Israel.  I wanted to share some thoughts about this most interesting trip, which is part of a program I am participating in called OnBoard.  All of the participants are board members of their agencies/synagogues. Some of the agencies include Jewish Senior Life, Hebrew Free Loan and The Holocaust Memorial Center, which is represented by Beth Ahm member Lilly Jacobson.  The participants are called “fellows,” and we began the program in March, 2018.  The program involves attending seminars to gain knowledge about common issues related to being on a board, participating in Jewish study with a designated teacher, working on a project for the agency, and then the culmination is the trip to Israel.
I traveled with OnBoard fellows from the Metro Detroit area, including Beth Ahm board member and officer David Stryk.  David and I started the trip a little early, and were able to explore Tel Aviv and Jerusalem before the OnBoard program began.  OnBoard fellows from Pittsburgh also participated in the program.
I’ll try to hit some of the highlights as the trip was jam packed with meeting various speakers and community leaders.  This was not your typical touristy trip—no climbing Masada or riding a camel.
A couple of goals from the trip:
1. To meet and engage with inspirational leadership from across the spectrum of Israeli society.  Some examples—meeting Joseph Gitler, founder of Leket Israel, Israel’s leading food rescue organization, Sigal Kanatopsky, CEO of Oliym Beyahad an organization that helps Ethiopian Israelis, and Gabe Axler who is helping to build community and start up small businesses in Beersheva.  We also met with prominent figures, such as author Yossi Klein Halevi and Avraham Infeld, who was the International President of Hillel.
2. To update and educate the fellows on current realities and complexities of contemporary Israeli society.  We had a variety of activities that addressed these complex issues, such as touring the Seamline and getting a detailed account of the history of the division of Jerusalem, and how this division affects its residents.  We visited various agencies that promote bringing Jews and Arabs together—this was inspiring.  We visited a school for children of refugees, as well as a school where Arab and Jewish children learn together.  We also spent an afternoon at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  (Some familiar faces from the Detroit area were prominent on the wall of our meeting room).
We had various scholars guide us through different texts to bring together the written word and contemporary Israel.  A couple of the scholars were Orthodox women who went on to become rabbis.  One was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi, and she described the challenges she faces due to the Orthodox world not recognizing her as a rabbi.
One highlight was visiting the Headquarters of the Masorti Movement, the Conservative movement in Israel, which Rabbi Rubenstein has talked about on several occasions.  Another fellow from Adat Shalom also attended.  We learned about a program that promotes children with disabilities to have bar/bat mitzvahs, and saw the Siddur that is used that includes pictures over the words so the child could better understand what he or she is reading.
One agency that was particularly special to me was Israel Elwyn.  This agency assists those who have a disability to have opportunities for vocational rehabilitation and ultimately find work, therefore promoting dignity and inclusion for the clients.  I work with clients who have traumatic brain injuries, and my company also promotes work opportunities and inclusion.  One participant who is autistic spoke to us about his work experiences, and how Israel Elwyn has helped him.
Another highlight was Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel.  We lit candles and some of the women and I helped lead services in the Women’s section.
There were many other wonderful opportunities—I could fill a number of pages about this trip!  I’m still processing everything about this great experience.  I am very grateful to be a part of the OnBoard program, and that I was able to go on this remarkable journey.  I will take the knowledge and experiences from this trip and put it into my role as a Beth Ahm board member.  I look forward to my continuing involvement with our wonderful shul.
Mon, May 25 2020 2 Sivan 5780