2015-11-25 / Voice at the Shore

Despite escalation of violence, locals get delicious taste of Israel on Federation mission

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


Ed Kline and Gert Novin visit the Wall during the Taste of Israel mission. Ed Kline and Gert Novin visit the Wall during the Taste of Israel mission. Seeing Israel through one’s own eyes—witnessing the history, the people, and the energy— is radically different from seeing it through media reports that portray Israel as a country besieged by political strife and violence.

That became crystal clear to participants on the Federation’s Taste of Israel Mission, which brought 10 local residents to Israel for 10 days in October. While loved ones at home worried about their safety, mission participants experienced moments of joy and wonder in an unforgettable trip that gave them a deliciously rich taste of all that Israel had to offer.

Mission leader Ed Kline, who had never before been to Israel, was overwhelmed by seeing Israel’s history. “I didn’t realize how much ancient history was there to see!” said Ed, especially because the country was also so cutting-edge and modern at the same time.

Yet as he soaked in the history, his friends at home, reading daily reports of attacks on Jews by terrorists in Israel, worried about his safety. “One of my friends called me the day after two people were stabbed. I told him: ‘I think there were more people stabbed in New York and Chicago yesterday. I feel safer here!”

Sondra Dublinsky, also a first-timer, agreed. “I don’t think anyone needs to be afraid to go to Israel right now. Sometimes the things we hear in the U.S. are a little more sensationalized than what actually happens.”

Taste of Israel mission participants traversed Israel from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea, seeing historical and technological wonders, taking in museums and markets, while building deep bonds of friendship with each other and a sense of good will and compassionate understanding for the Israelis they met along the way.

For Dublinsky, going to Israel was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “I always wanted to go to Israel—some people would call it a bucket list item.”

The high point of the trip for Dublinsky was seeing the Western Wall. “It was very sacred. It meant a lot to me because of my relationship with my father, who was an Orthodox Jew. I felt his presence there.”

Although Gert Novin has visited countless times, her recent experience at the Western Wall during Shabbat is a moment she will never forget. After lighting candles at the hotel, all of the women on the mission walked together through the streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel. As they stood by the Wall, praying and taking it in, female soldiers starting streaming onto the women’s side of the Wall.

“There were girls as young as 19 and 20, walking in with their uniforms and guns,” she recalled. “Then they started dancing. Our group cut in. I can’t even tell you the joy that I felt—I had a smile from ear to ear. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more joyous dance experience other than dancing the Hora at my daughter’s wedding!”

There were many other joyous moments as well, such as an evening spent at the home of Yuval Shefi, the former Israel director for the Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. Israeli chef Ido Zarmi, who had been unable to attend the Federation’s local Taste of Israel event this summer due to visa problems, prepared a wonderful meal for them there that was also attended by numerous Israelis with a connection to the Jersey shore. “It was the most wonderful evening,” said Dublinsky. “We had dinner together and were dancing and singing. The food and the camaraderie were fabulous.”

Being in Israel during a time of heightened violence gave Novin a stronger sense of empathy and understanding for her Israeli counterparts. “We saw with the violence going on, how people had to go on with life. Soldiers were on every corner. But we never felt unsafe—we felt protected. It made me realize first-hand how they have to deal with this—for them this is routine.”

The group also got to see an IDF checkpoint in the West Bank border near Jerusalem, which processes more than 7,500 people (mostly Arabs) each morning who seek entry into Israel. The group got to see the normally restricted command center, offices, and interrogation unit of the checkpoint. “We saw people walking through and being checked. I got a very clear understanding of how Palestinians were checked in. That was an amazing part of the tour,” added Dublinsky.

Novin, who led the group along with Kline, enjoyed seeing Israel as a tourist. Although she had grown up visiting her aunt and uncle in Israel, and her parents even had a house in Tel Aviv for many years, she never before had done many things that tourists typically do—like swimming in the Dead Sea, which delighted her. “It was so funny! You pick up your feet and can’t get them back down again!”

She highly recommends taking a tour. “Some people I know say they just want to see Israel on their own, no tour. I would tell them not to do that, to go with the Federation instead. It was so wellplanned and the tour guides

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