This summer, a special six-day group tour to Israel is planned by Nechama, Inc., a Northern New Jersey-based professionally facilitated support group for Jewish families who have experienced infant and pregnancy loss.
Dubbed “Health & Healing in Israel,” the July 2-8 tour offers an itinerary of spiritual, emotional and physical activities: hikes, swimming, and yoga at a spa hotel in the Galilee; a tree-planting ceremony in the Judean hills; visits to graves of Jewish ancestors; uplifting guest speakers; and daily support sessions and private counseling led by Nechama founder Reva Judas, a certified chaplain and kindergarten teacher at The Moriah School in Englewood.
The trip is an opportunity for the participants in her free support group, which meets the first Wednesday evening of every month at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, to bond together and to allow themselves to be pampered in an environment where it is safe to express their grief.
“We want to do a tree-planting at a JNF forest as something concrete for them to go back to, because many of these parents have no grave to visit,” Judas explained. “While we are in the Galilee spa, each person will plan what they want to do at the ceremony to express their feelings and memorialize their baby.”
The idea for the trip began with Devorah Rosen Goldman, creative director for Ten Four Design Group, a Teaneck-based ad agency. Goldman has provided pro-bono services for Nechama (“comfort” in Hebrew) since its founding in 2009 at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. Goldman related that the trigger was a tour of the newly restored Hurva Synagogue during a recent visit to Israel.
The Hurva, once the Old City’s main Ashkenazic house of worship, was destroyed by the Arab Legion during the 1948 War of Independence. Only in 2010 did the synagogue finally reopen to the public.
“The tour guide said to us that the Jewish story is about rebirth,” Goldman recalled, “and that in the darkest time we must believe that something good will come from it.”
Upon her return, she ran into Judas at a Chanukah boutique. “As soon as I saw Reva, a light bulb went off in my head. I said, ‘We’re taking a group of women to Israel – women who’ve gone through dark nights and are trying to refresh, reframe, and refocus.’ It will be a very Jewish experience.”
In the end, it was decided not to restrict enrollment to women, but to welcome any Jewish couples and individuals over age 21 who have been touched by infancy or pregnancy loss. Israeli residents will be able to participate on a daily basis.
The itinerary was developed with Goldman’s sister-in-law in Rehovot, travel planner Judy Isaacson of drive-israel.com.
“The difference between a trip like this here and in New Jersey is the spiritual quality of the areas we’re going to,” Isaacson explained. “Rachel’s Tomb in particular has special meaning, because she was a matriarch of Israel and many people believe that prayers are answered at the graves of the righteous.”
While they are up north, participants will indulge in kosher culinary experiences: fresh local Galilee cheeses, sustainably grown produce, juices and olive oil, freshly baked breads, and chocolate-making with a professional Israeli chocolatier.
The agenda encompasses a walking tour of Safed (Tz’fat), the mystical city of ancient kabbalists, and three days in Jerusalem including a tour of the Hurva Synagogue.
Judas stresses that participants in the trip, just as in her support group, can be from any point along the spectrum of Jewish observance.
“Everyone meshes with no judging,” says Judas, whose own firstborn died within a day of his birth. She is now a mother of four and grandmother of one. “They’re all angry at God no matter how religious they are, so they all share the same feelings.”
Because Nechama is the only organization of its kind anywhere, Judas fields calls from bereaved families all over the United States and also trains rabbis and their wives how to help congregants over the loss of a baby.
She will be taking her community awareness program to Israel in January and February, with stops in the heavily English-speaking communities of Efrat and Ra’anana, as well as in Nahariya, the UJA Partnership 2000 sister city to North Jersey.
“In partnership with the city of Nahariya [and the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey], I will do a community awareness program there and hopefully start a support group,” said Judas. “I will talk to Nahariya hospital officials to connect them with Holy Name [Medical Center] and develop a support system between us. I will also visit schools and speak at a Holocaust survivors group and a group of parents that lost children in the army.”
To learn more about Nechama and the Israel tour in July, visit www.nechamah.org or contact Judas at 201-692-9302 or nechamacomfort@gmail.