Recalling 30 years of Zahal Shalom at Ridgewood shul

Recalling 30 years of Zahal Shalom at Ridgewood shul

The Zahal Shalom group in Acco, Israel, in October. (Photo provided)
The Zahal Shalom group in Acco, Israel, in October. (Photo provided)

Jo Rosen and Steve Kornblit will talk about Zahal Shalom’s trip to Israel to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary. The program is set for Sunday, February 12, at 12:30 p.m., at Temple Israel & JCC in Ridgewood.

Several Temple Israel members and other Zahal Shalom members from nearby synagogues participated in the trip. The hour-long presentation will feature some of their stories and experiences with the veterans and their connection with Israel. They also will talk about how their volunteer work with Zahal Shalom creates a strong connection to Israel.

Zahal Shalom, a non-profit organization, is made up of volunteers who fund and organize trips for injured Israeli veterans. Every year, a delegation of about 10 veterans comes to Bergen County, and Zahal Shalom finds 10 host families that take a veteran into their homes (and hearts) and another 10 buddy families that support the host families during the veterans’ two-week stay.

Steve and Susan Kornblit have been Temple Israel members since the early 1990s. Steve is Zahal Shalom’s co-vice president and has volunteered in several capacities for the group, including on the publicity, fund-raising, and planning committees. Susan is secretary of the organization and participates on the Host and Buddy committee.

“Our slogan is ‘In Our Homes for Two Weeks, in Our Hearts for a Lifetime,’” Mr. Kornblit said. “In 2005, when I was 47 years old, I had never had a connection to Israel. Maybe a book-learned historical and religious connection, but not a deep bond. In 2005, a Temple Israel member approached Susan and me to ask if we would host a veteran for Zahal Shalom. Luckily, we said yes! This one experience really gave us our connection to Israel before we ever visited Israel. The connection was an Israeli veteran named Zacky Lev-Ari. He was serious and gentle with a nice smile — like a big teddy bear and the quintessential grandfather. Our children loved him, we loved him. He was our first connection with Israel, but he was not going to be our last. Since Zacky, we have hosted seven more veterans and bonded with literally hundreds of other veterans.

“Several years ago, I began planning a trip to Israel that would celebrate the 30th anniversary of Zahal Shalom. The plan was to copy the successful format of the Zahal Shalom delegation trips to the United States, except in reverse! Instead of Israelis coming to the United States, it would be Zahal Shalom Americans going to Israel. In many instances, instead of Israelis sleeping in American hosts’ homes, Zahal Shalom members would sleep in their homes in Israel.”

“The reunion tour took place in late October/early November of 2022. The American Zahal Shalom members connected with dozens of former Zahal Shalom veterans and traveled all over Israel, with the veterans as guides. Visiting Israel with the veterans we have met through Zahal Shalom is like no other travel experience I have encountered. The bonds you form here in America flourish and multiply when you meet the veterans’ spouses and families in Israel. When Israelis show their American hosts their homeland, their Israel, it is beyond words. It is an experience I wish everyone could have.”

The Kornblits’ participation in Zahal Shalom also sparked an interest in NYC tourism. As they planned and executed several day trips for the Israeli veterans, they gained knowledge and experience guiding people through NYC neighborhoods. They became official NYC guides and formed an NYC walking tour company called Kornblit Tours LLC.

Jo Resnick Rosen and her husband, Michael, have been members of Temple Israel since 1989, and she’s been a board member for more than 20 years. She also is active with Zahal Shalom of Bergen County, hosting three veterans and then serving on Zahal Shalom’s executive committee. She helps plan the veterans’ itinerary in Bergen County and when they travel to Manhattan and Washington. This gives her the opportunity to photograph and to get to know 20 years’ worth of delegations.

“I was thrilled to be able to visit the many vets that I have come to know and photograph over the years,” Ms. Rosen said. “In visiting them in Israel, it was awesome to see people’s faces light up in recognition when seeing our vets at our Tel Aviv Gala, on day trips, and at their homes for dinners and parties. To know that our program has made such a positive difference in their lives makes all the work worthwhile. And being actively engaged has given me the opportunity to make lifelong friendships with several of our vets so that when I visited, I felt like I was coming home to family.”

The in-person presentation is part of Temple Israel & JCC’s ongoing Temple Talk series. Admission is free, and all are welcome.

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