Mission members had numerous opportunities to meet and talk with individual Israelis.
One afternoon was reserved solely for inter-communal socializing, as UJA women were dispersed throughout Nahariya to enjoy the home hospitality of local residents.
Hosts as well as their neighbors and friends literally and figuratively embraced the New Jersey women, exchanging e-mail addresses, discussing families, and talking about common concerns.
The group gathered for a Tu B’Shevat seder in the Yemin Moshe home of Joseph Silver, whose sister, Debbie Silver, is a "Lion of Judah" (donor of at least $5,000 to the annual UJA campaign). According to Tel Aviv "Lion" Doreen Gainsford, there are 80 Lions in Israel, five of whom joined the New Jersey women for an evening of fruit, songs, and Tu B’Shevat readings. From left, Israel Lion Ruth Salomy with New Jersey women Barbara Smolin, Susan Silver, and Ava Silverstein.
And they did it over mountains of cake, as it seemed that every host and every one of her friends baked a cake for the occasion.
"We could have all been from Bergen County. We had the same problems, the same issues," mission member Lisa Mactas of Woodcliff Lake later said of her conversations with the Israeli women.
Dina, whose home I visited, spoke of an art project she had arranged through Partership ‘000’s Community Task Force.
"When I was asked to come up with a project that would involve the two communities, I didn’t know what to do," said Dina, who attended a Partnership steering committee meeting in New Jersey two years ago. "I decided to have five seniors [in Nahariya] make paintings, which we sent to be exhibited at the JCC, the Bergen County Y, and the Wayne Y. Now we’re working on a cookbook that will have recipes from both communities. I’ll be going back to New Jersey in March."
But other visits brought home some of Israel’s sadder reality. Throughout the trip, mission members heard from the families of terror victims. Some meetings were planned, others were not.
In Nahariya, the New Jersey women visited Yad L’banim, which supports families that have lost loved ones in wars or terrorist attacks. Memorial plaques at the center pay tribute to ’17 fallen community members, according to the organization’s director, Rachel Ronen. Ronen lost her husband during the Yom Kippur War.
Orli is a young mother of two, whose 35-year-old husband, Shalom, was a soldier who was killed four years ago while he was protecting civilians from terrorists shooting at passing vehicles. Orli credited Yad L’banim with helping her "collect the pieces" of her life.
"They call to see how you feel and what you need," she said. And through the organization, her husband will always be remembered. The group conducts a yearly memorial service for terror victims and has created a computer-generated photo exhibit for many of the families. Orli showed the New Jersey women the exhibit featuring Shalom.
"We need to live, not just to grieve," said Ronen, explaining that Yad L’banim is not a depressing place. "We need to give the children a chance to be happy," she added, pointing out that the 10-year-old facility is a vibrant place that houses a library, a choir, and a museum.
In Nahariya one group of women encountered the reality of bereavement a second time.
While Gale Bindelglass of Franklin Lakes and others were visiting a woman named Galya, the hostess "received a phone call from a family member whose son had been killed in a suicide bombing at Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa," recalled Bindelglass. "She convinced her to come over and join us. Her relative talked openly to us about what had happened and how she thought she’d never get over it."
It was the first time the bereaved mother had discussed the incident with anyone.
In Jerusalem, mission members met Cheryl Mandel, whose ‘4-year-old son Daniel was killed in ‘003 while fighting terrorists in Nablus. Mandel surveyed the audience and said that she felt she was clearly speaking to her peers, who would understand what it meant to lose a child. "You can identify with me," she said.
She told the group that she received the news of her son’s death as she was preparing for Pesach. When a delegation of soldiers arrived at her home, she said she "waited for what seemed like forever" to hear which of her children had been killed.
At Daniel’s funeral, she said she "taught her children that bad things happen. The test is not how you avoid these bad things but how you act when they happen."
So she does things in Daniel’s memory. "Otherwise, it gives the enemy a second victory," she said.
Her son had mastered five instruments, so she is trying to build a "musical park" that will reflect Daniel’s love of music.
Mandel said she has two other sons who are in the army, but she has not given them permission to enlist in combat units, even though she realizes that "it was a privilege for Daniel to die with a gun in his hand," protecting the Jewish people.