Disappointed that Elijah didn’t show up at the end of your seder this week and that you won’t be spending next year in Jerusalem with the messiah? Well, if you’re tired of waiting for the apocalypse as an excuse for visiting Israel, you might want to go with the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and 300 or so other northern New Jerseyans next year.
The local federation is planning a community-wide trip to Israel for next Feb. 17 to ‘5, which it calls "Jersey to Jerusalem ‘007," or "J’J" for short. The trip, for 300 or so people, is aimed at getting a cross-section of northern New Jersey residents, from across the denominational divide, to travel to the Holy Land together in an effort to build community.
"The idea is to take our community and collectively enjoy the magic of Israel together," said Greg Meisels, one of the J’J’s co-chairs.
The federation has approached the leaders of 40 area synagogues, from Reconstructionist to Reform to Conservative to Orthodox, about becoming partners in the trip, which would entail promoting it in their synagogue bulletins, and the federation would like to see the congregations use J’J in lieu of their own congregational trips.
The J’J itinerary, which is still in the planning stages, will include several events for the entire 300 or so Jersey contingent, such as spending Shabbat in Jerusalem and having community-wide prayers at the Western Wall Friday evening, communal Shabbat meals, and a day in UJA-NNJ’s Partnership ‘K sister city, Naharia. But the federation would also like to work with synagogues and other Jewish community agencies, such as the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly and the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, to allow them to customize their own trips. For instance, say trip organizers, if a synagogue got together a bus of participants, it could take a day to visit sites of particular interest to that congregation.
The goal, said Sanford Herrick, another trip co-chair, is to get people whom the federation may not be reaching involved in the community through Israel.
"If you look at the cities that have particularly successful federations, such as Detroit, Houston, Cleveland, and Baltimore, where federation plays a role as an umbrella organization, and where there is a spirit in the community, all of them have larger trips to Israel," said Herrick. "In northern New Jersey everyone is interested in what’s best for their own temple or their own cause. They all look to UJA NNJ to get support. This trip could show how instead of working at cross purposes, we can actually work together.""
But this trip which the federation is avoiding calling a mission is going to be different from most federation-run tours of Israel in that it is not designed as a fund-raising event. Whereas many federation missions to Israel and other parts require participants to make a minimum donation to federation along with the cost of the trip, UJA-NNJ is waiving the minimum donation for J’J and it will not hold events aimed at fund-raising for the federation.
"Federations often measure their success by how much money they raise per family and on a per-gift basis. That is an aging model," said Herrick. "People don’t want to just be asked for money. They want to believe that they are part of something, and they should be part of something. And the way to get people involved is not by making looking for money the main purpose of this trip. It should be something where people can start to understand their relationships with each other. This is a way to keep our community vibrant and to get them excited, and to show them Israel."
The trip, he said, is meant to be accessible also to the groups outside of those who are typically involved with the federation which he describes as over 50 and financially set.
"Many people under 50 are not engaged with federation and are not getting involved because they think that federation always has its hand out," he said. "We have to understand the interrelations of people, and we have to help people understand that people don’t give to the federation, they give through the federation. It is a conduit."
So the trip, which will cost about $’,’50 per person, will be relatively affordable, when compared to other Israel tours.
The federation is also going to be the first to set up a Website that will allow its participants to register online for a group trip to Israel. Though the site, www.jersey’jerusalem.org, is not yet up, it will offer interested parties a virtual tour through the trip’s itinerary. For now, interested parties can fill out an interest form, and the federation will mail them application forms.
While showing people Israel, said Leslie Billet, the trip’s third co-chair, is a way to also hammer home how important it is that this community stay involved with the Jewish state, it is also about building a positive experience.
"It is also going to be a lot of fun," she said. "Going to Israel is fun. We want families to come and bring their children. When you go on a grownup mission to Israel, you might see things that you won’t see on this trip. This is just going to be fantastically fun. There will be lots of parties. There will be home hospitality. Kids will get to hang out with each other. And Shabbat in Jerusalem, everyone will head off at sunset on Friday to the Western Wall and then come back for dinner and to hang out with each other. It will be just an amazing experience."