I’m on the terrace, overlooking the most gorgeous sight I’ve ever seen. The water is blue, blue; the rock formations have been here for thousands of years; and the residents, in the buildings below, have lived here for centuries. My senses have been assaulted by the sounds, tastes, fragrances, colors, and warmth of Sorrento, Italy.
My mini vacation started a couple of days ago. I got off the Alitalia plane and boarded the bus to the terminal, and there they were: Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, and their two kids. I smiled. It had been reported in the press that they were in Israel celebrating their son’s Bar Mitzvah. Ah, yes…even Michael Douglas (wearing an ill-fitting wrinkled blazer and being TOTALLY recognizable despite his hat and sunglasses) wanted his son to be part of our people and our traditions. My heart and soul swelled with pride.
I still am flying high — kvelling — over last week’s experience in Israel. After sixteen months of planning, meeting, organizing, recruiting, and stressing out, my Federation “Connecting Community” mission is over. It ended on Sunday and now is just a memory; “a thing” that a few people from Atlanta did together in the month of June of 2014.
As I look back on the week in Israel however, I – of all people – know that this was not just “a thing.” From a work perspective, we set out to achieve three primary goals. The first was to connect our 236 participants, in personally meaningful ways, with the history, culture, and challenges of the Land and people of Israel. To do this, we organized private visits to museums and memorials; offered walking tours through ancient ruins and modern city streets; and provided opportunities to hear stories, consider multiple perspectives, and learn from expert speakers and educators. We crammed as much as possible into six days!
Another goal was to introduce our delegation to our “Partnership Region” of Yokneam-Megiddo that has been facilitated through our strategic relationship with the Jewish Agency for Israel. We visited numerous programs and projects that are funded through Federation’s annual campaign dollars and saw firsthand how these funds have changed and saved lives. We fostered new friendships and found new mishpuchah by scheduling time to meet and schmooze with children and adults in their schools, homes, and places of business.
The third goal was to use this mission as a way to make more people aware of Federation’s work in Israel with the hope that they will want to engage with these efforts upon returning to Atlanta.
So, how’d we do? Did we succeed in meeting our goals?
It’s too early to evaluate the results of our third goal. What actions will our mission participants take to keep their “Israel Experience” alive now that they are back in Atlanta? Time will tell, but we will facilitate ways to make them possible.
The first two goals? Sunday evening, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, our participants met and shared their overall reactions and perceptions with the Federation professionals who staffed the mission. The emotional, heartfelt, and tearful reflections – especially the ones that came from the 100-plus people who were “first timers” to Israel – were evidence of “mission accomplished.”
My true barometer, however, was my husband. He willingly came to Israel with me, despite the fact that it coincided with our wedding anniversary and his birthday; that we constantly were surrounded by other people; that I was distracted with work (24/7) for over a week; and that he already had been there many times before. He knew I would need a “port in the storm,” an ally and loving supporter in case the logistics and issues became overwhelming. And, even if I couldn’t spend any alone time with him, his mere presence was desperately appreciated.
My husband chose to be on the track with the “first timers” to get a fresh, “Introduction to Israel” perspective. He immersed himself in the stories I tried to tell and the lessons I tried to teach through each day of the trip’s itinerary. On the last day, at Neve Daniel, a settlement in the outskirts of Jerusalem, the guide patiently and clearly presented the history of the current geopolitical reality that Israel faces in these disputed territories. Standing at a strategic overlook, the sky was so clear that we could see all the way to Tel Aviv. I looked over at my husband and saw that he was crying. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He lowered his head and sobbed.
At that moment, I knew. No trip before had impacted him as this one did. I achieved what I set out to. More than part of my professional job, I personally wanted to share the land that I love in a way that would change those who came with me. I wanted to create “Aha!” moments. I wanted to create experiences of a lifetime.
I’ve earned my few days off in Italy. Monday it’s back to work.