A weeklong New Jersey legislators’ study mission to Israel overlapped with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s first-responders mission in late February to early March.
Organized by the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations and co-chaired by Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt and Holly Schepisi, the mission included a bipartisan, multi-ethnic group of 15 legislators, who paid their own way.
“This is not a lying-on-the-beach trip,” said Mark Levenson, head of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, an umbrella body encompassing 10 Jewish federations.
“Our overall goal is to educate the legislators about Israel and to give historical perspective for what goes on here. Four of our participants are sponsors of anti-BDS legislation that we expect to be passed in mid- to late March.”
Among other items on its full itinerary, the delegation toured several IDF bases, Israel’s national defense college, Tel Aviv University, the Golan Heights, Kibbutz Erez, and Sderot near the Gaza Strip.
They met with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro; Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein; Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy, and Water Yuval Steinitz; Foreign Ministry representatives; participants in Roots, a dialogue group between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, and Civil Aviation Authority of Israel Director Giora Romm, who was a prisoner of war in Egypt in 1969 and was deputy Israel Air Force commander during the 1991 Gulf War.
“As a county legislator and as a board member of Jewish Federation of North Jersey, this journey has been majorly impactful,” said Tracy Silna Zur, vice chairwoman of the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
“Our bipartisan group traveled from north to south to see and understand what Israel is all about and to understand the importance of the relationship between Israel and the United States and specifically with the state of New Jersey,” she said. “We met with everyone from kibbutz members to a Palestinian working toward nonviolence to the speaker of the Knesset.”
Ms. Zur said it is important for New Jersey residents “to know that this group, as a whole and as individuals, is dedicated to understanding the challenges in Israel and the importance of anti-BDS legislation, as well as learning best practices from one another.”
She said the group is coming home with ideas for strengthening partnerships between Israel and New Jersey in trade and economic development, and possibly incorporating Israeli technologies into the state universities.
“It’s also a religious journey,” Mr. Levenson said. “All but two of the legislators on this mission are Christian, and they were able to see their roots in Jerusalem and in Tiberias.”
During one emotional moment on the trip, Mr. Levenson gave a $125,000 check to the Regional Council of Gush Etzion from the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic toward building a promenade commemorating the three teenage boys kidnapped there and killed by terrorists in 2014. The donation was given in memory of Mark and Eta Levenson’s son, Eric Eliezer, who recently died. He was 28 years old.