|Cindy Kresch and Robert Shine with Robbie and Haley Kresch in the Golan Heights. Courtesy of JFNA|
The promise of his first trip to Israel – and the opportunity to share it with friends through the futuristic Google Glass device – was tempting enough for Northern Highlands Regional High School tennis star Robert Kresch of Allendale to forgo the court and join his family on the Jewish Federations of North America’s winter family mission during the holiday break.
He did pack his racket, only to find that the busy itinerary left him no time to use it. “I got over that relatively quickly,” he said with a smile.
Robbie and his 12-year-old sister, Haley, their mother, Cindy, and her fiancÃ©, John Shine, were among seven families on the unusual mission, and the only ones from Bergen County. The others live in Essex County, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Aaron Herman, JFNA’s director of missions and development, planned and led the 10-day trip. He also is in the Google Glass Explorer Program, tasked with testing the wearable computer. Voice commands activate the eyeglass device; the wearer can direct it to take and share images, get directions and translations (Hebrew is not yet available), and find online information (“How old is the Western Wall?”), all without lifting a finger.
Mr. Herman and his marketing team realized that Google Glass could greatly enhance Israel missions for participants and for their friends and relatives back home, so they partnered with the Chicago-based iCenter for Israel Education to organize the pilot. Two of the beta devices accompanied the travelers.
“What’s the difference between taking a video on Google Glass and taking a video on a smartphone? It’s the point of view,” Mr. Herman said. “You become the tripod, and you can tell the story in a unique way. Israel has a different meaning to everyone, and you can capture and share yours in real time.”
Up to nine people anywhere can sign into a live Google Hangout via smartphone or computer to watch the shared footage and interact with its creator. Content can be posted directly to social media sites.
Mr. Shine described Google Glass as “revolutionary. Most of us are used to picking up something in our hand and bringing it to our eye, where now you don’t have to do that. If you are looking out over the Dead Sea, for instance, you can take videos instantaneously and talk about the thoughts in your head in one seamless action, instead of stopping and reaching for your phone or camera, and the whole moment is gone.”
Robbie was equally thrilled with a much lower-tech adventure: an archeological dig at Beit Guvrin National Park. This area encompasses the ruins of a Judean city from the First Temple period, 957 BCE to 586 BCE.
“We went into a cave where a family from thousands of years ago might have lived,” he said. “As we dug down, we each discovered small pieces of pottery and animal bones, and we were the first people in thousands of years to uncover these things. Then we crawled through a tunnel that hadn’t been excavated. It was very cool.”
The seven families visited tourist destinations including Yad Vashem, Ein Gedi, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem’s Old City, the Tel Aviv Port, the Ayalon Institute secret bullet factory from pre-1948, the Rabin Center, the Golan Heights and Galilee, two kibbutzim, and Tzippori National Park, where Brookside Middle School student Haley Kresch and a few of the other kids celebrated becoming bar or bat mitzvah.
The group ate dinner with an Arab family; participated in the Galilee Circus, a circus-arts project comprising 60 Arab and Jewish children and teens; and went on an ATV in the Galilee. They went to federation-funded social projects such as Leket, where they helped pick fruits and vegetables to be distributed to the needy; and an immigrant absorption center in Safed (Tzfat), where they met new Israelis from Ethiopia.
All of it was experienced and shared with the help of Google Glass as well as a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Smart Watch, and GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition Wi-Fi enabled video camera.
The advanced technology put an exciting new layer on top of the core experience, but Cindy Kresch would have signed up anyway.
“My late husband was Jewish and I was raised Catholic,” said Ms. Kresch, who is a member of Temple Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah. “We wanted to raise our children Jewish, and it was important to me and my in-laws that my children get to Israel. We wanted to experience it together. I have truly enjoyed everything about this trip and I love that [my children] felt a connection to the country and their heritage.”
Mr. Shine said that seeing Robbie approach the Western Wall, hand in hand with his cousin and his uncle, was a high point of the 10-day trip. “Just watching him was probably a moment I’ll never forget,” he said. “And watching Haley have her bat mitzvah here, the first in the family – hopefully these are traditions they can pass on to their children, and Cindy and I have to make sure that happens.”
Asked what he would say to friends about what it’s really like in Israel, Robbie replied, “I would tell them while you do feel a slight bit of nervousness being so close to the center of turmoil in the world here, you feel safe. It’s a modern country. Even when you’re traveling through the west bank to get to Jerusalem, it’s worth it to be in a place that almost every civilization in history fought over and died for.”
“I would tell people, ‘You should just come,'” Mr. Shine added. “It’s fair to say we’ll be back.”
With or without Google Glass.