Our cover story this week focuses on Zahal Shalom, the program that brings ten Israeli veterans to spend two weeks in America. The itinerary checks all the boxes on the tourism lists – the Metropolitan Museum, Central Park, Washington Square Park, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Bergen Town Center in Paramus – but the real agenda is about relationships. Each soldier gets to know two American Jewish families: One that provides the soldier with a bed and breakfast, and one that goes on tours with the group during the day.
We salute those of you who open your houses and your hearts for this – and those of you who open your wallets as well. The program costs about $4,500 for each visiting Israeli. And we urge readers who think that they can commit to hosting an Israeli next year to get in touch with the program’s organizers. Details can be found at zahalshalom.com.
The one thing that bothers us about the program is how few such programs exist. Bergen County is one of only six North American communities hosting disabled Israeli veterans in conjunction with the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization. Now, we do believe that the Jews of Bergen County are exceptional. We’re generous, we love Israel, and we’re closer to the sights of New York City than many. But if Pittsburgh can host, why not Queens? San Francisco? Nyack? Great Neck? Silver Spring?
So here’s our appeal to you this week: Spread the word about Zahal Shalom to your out-of-Bergen-County friends. Help the program spread. The fine folks of greater Ridgewood have been doing it for 23 years, and they will be glad to mentor new communities. And they will testify eagerly about how successful the program is in creating strong, loving connections between Israelis and Americans.