First person: Wearing my heart on my sleeve

by | Sep 4, 2018 | Uncategorized

Federation’s Journey Home Mission to Israel

Earlier this summer, a group of 37 local community members traveled to Israel on the Federation’s Journey Home Mission to Israel. The week-long, interactive mission was designed to enable participants to follow their campaign dollars to the sites and programs funded by the UJFT’s Annual Campaign. It was also an opportunity for Federation young leaders to closely interact and share experiences with more seasoned leaders, with each group inspiring the other. Woven throughout the mission were an emphasis on leadership and making a difference. The mission, therefore, included visits at leadership development organizations, IDF experiences, some of Israel’s leading high-tech programs, and even cutting-edge programs in social entrepreneurship. Many of the programs the group experienced were delivered by UJFT’s overseas partners—the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and ORT. It was gratifying to see how this Federation’s campaign dollars were hard at work—making a difference in the lives of one, and also in the lives of many.

Upcoming issues of Jewish News will highlight more mission experiences. The first article about the mission appeared in the August 13 issue. The second article follows.

People often use the expression “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” I would say that fits me well. I am not good at masking my emotions. I laugh hard, I cry hard, I hurt hard, and I love hard. Having such visceral reactions to life can be both exhilarating and exhausting at times. In June, my wife Rachel and I had the pleasure of joining 35 other members of our community on a UJFT mission trip to Israel. During our “Journey Home,” I experienced each one of these emotions at different points in our journey. It left me with a greater understanding of myself, my community, and Israel.

I laughed hard during our group’s time together on the bus. Whether it was hilarious stories of people’s pasts, or just general goofiness, one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip was the overall camaraderie. I found myself engaged in funny and meaningful conversations with people I had never taken the time to get to know. I learned about Barbara Dudley’s amazing family. I learned about David Brand’s deep connections to Israel. I learned that Britt Simon plays a mean harmonica. One of the best parts about this mission, and any mission for that matter, is forging closer relationships with the people traveling with you. On this trip, it was definitely mission accomplished.

I cried hard in YAD Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum. Those of our group who had previously toured Yad Vashem were afforded a rare opportunity to visit the museum’s archives, where we were joined by Shaya Ben Yehuda, Yad Vashem’s managing director of International Relations. Ben Yehuda presented the group with some of the museum’s most amazing documents and artifacts. I held a letter written by a 17-year-old French girl to her mother. In the letter, she assured her mother that she would be fine, having no idea that she was on a train heading to her death. Having a French grandmother, I could not help but think how lucky my family was. Most upsetting was the experience of holding a letter that Heinrich Himler wrote, ordering the Nazis to put to death 2 million Polish Jews. To think that this one piece of paper was responsible for so much death and destruction overwhelmed me.

I hurt hard at the political strife that Israel experiences on a daily basis. We were fortunate to hear from Danny Tirza, who was the “chief architect” behind the wall separating Gaza and Israel. I learned that Israel built the wall during the early years of the second Intifada, when more than 1,400 Israelis were killed by Palestinian terror attacks. On completion of construction, that number dropped to just over 40. I hurt for both the Israelis and the Palestinians who just want to live a peaceful life and raise their families. I hurt that peace seems so far away.

I loved hard when touring the Old City of Jerusalem with Sarah Tuttle-Singer. The social media director for the Times of Israel , Tuttle-Singer recently published her first book, Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year in the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem (Skyhorse Publishing, May 8, 2018). And true to the pages of that book, Tuttle-Singer took us on an amazing journey through those quarters. She showed us parts of Jerusalem that few people ever take the time to see. She took us to the “Little Western Wall,” where I was able to pray while standing with my wife—touching the stones of the Kotel together. It was a beautiful experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Another stop on Tuttle-Singer’s tour brought us to Razzouk Tattoo where we met Wassim and his father, Anton. Wassim and Anton are Palestinian Christians. Their family has been tattooing in Jerusalem since the 1300s (that is not a type-o!) and still have many of the ancient tools and stencils used for tattooing throughout the ages. I was lucky enough to leave with a memento of my own.

If Israel has taught me anything, it’s that the world is not black and white, or right or wrong, as so many make it out to be. It’s a lot of complex shades of gray. During the trip, I also gained a deeper understanding that the Tidewater Jewish community is amazing, and we really are making a difference. Whether by assisting special needs children, or by helping communities as a whole, the dollars we raise as a federation are improving the lives of Israelis who need assistance. We should all be proud of that.

Although I felt a variety of emotions during this trip, love is what I felt most. Love for my wife (with whom I was finally able to share an Israel experience); love for my community and all the great organizations and programs we support; and love for Israel, because it is an amazing and beautiful country unlike any other on earth. I returned from the trip with Israel deep in my heart. I returned wearing my heart on my sleeve.

— Jeremy Krupnick