When I was 16 years old, I and 45 other teens from northern California, specifically the East Bay, spent six weeks in Israel during the summer after our sophomore year in high school. It was an incredible experience, especially at such a young age, and this first trip continues to have a profound impact on my life still to this day.
Since that trip back in 1990, I have been back to Israel twice–once as part of my graduate school seminar in 2000 and again with the Jewish Federation’s first community trip to Israel in 2012. And while each trip holds a very special place in my heart for the unique experiences they provided, I will always remember the first time I set foot in the country of our ancestors. I think that is the same for many.
I share these thoughts as we are excited about the community trip to Israel we have planned for the end of October. While we had originally planned to take a group this month, we felt that people were apprehensive as the COVID-19 numbers were spiking due to the Omicron variant in December and January. This is why we pushed the trip back to the fall, which by many accounts is the perfect time to be in Israel.
I know that for some, the idea of traveling during COVID, let alone doing so internationally (and now that the mask mandates on transportation have been lifted) causes some apprehension. I completely understand. But I want to remind you that the trip is not until October and that you will be traveling to one of the countries that has been at the forefront of COVID research and vaccine development from the beginning.
In my opinion, there is no one better in our community to lead a group trip to Israel than Cantor Judy Sofer, our Cultural Arts Program Coordinator. Not only did she live in Israel for quite a while, but she has also led many, many similar trips and everyone shares how much they enjoyed the insight, perspective and experiences she shares. Cantor Sofer is always exploring new opportunities to include in her trips. And this year’s is no exception.
The itinerary she has put together for this 12-day trip is incredible and is geared to both the first-time visitor and those who be returning. One of the great things about Israel is that no two trips are alike. This is partly to do with the ongoing excavations and discoveries being made throughout the country. Plus, Israel holds a very special place in our history and a trip like this provides an opportunity to see, touch, smell and taste the beauty and richness of the country.
At the end of every Passover seder, one of the last things we read in the Haggadah is “Next year in Jerusalem.” Now is the time to fulfill this and make it happen. Join us on a trip of a lifetime.
Jason Moss is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.