In the summer of 1974, 15 local teenagers experienced an amazing month-long adventure in Israel. The trip followed a month of Judaic study taught by two Brandeis University graduate students and Hebrew taught by Froike Inbar, Community Shaliach, at the Jewish Community Center of Tidewater on Newport Avenue in Norfolk.
The experience was so meaningful and important that 13 of the 15 gathered for a 40+ year reunion March 22 at the home of participant Terri Denison. Many traveled from out of town and had not seen each other since the trip. It was a wonderful and fun reunion, which included the two people responsible for the program’s creation and implementation, Dr. Barry and Lois Einhorn and Skyping with Sue Shaffer Deitch in Philadelphia, one of the tour chaperones and former director of Groups Service at the JCC.
Many brought their scrapbooks, which were a huge hit, along with a slide show loaded onto a big screen TV. The fact that these scrapbooks have been carried along in our lives, surviving the de-cluttering cuts that multiple moves and downsizing might entail, attests to the place in our hearts this experience holds. Alumni attending the reunion were: Marcy Goldsticker (Berger), Lisa Bresenoff (Feierstein), Gary Danoff, Terri Denison, Sheila Drucker, Marty Einhorn, Jeff Goldman, Jonathan Leavitt, Roger Liebowitz, Margie Marcus, Bobby Morrell, Judy Rosenblatt and Phyllis White. Alan Lowenthal and Kim Goldner were with us in spirit.
The American Zionist Youth Foundation assisted in planning the Israel tour. The reunion generated enthusiastic fondness and discussion of particular highlights: Ein Gedi Field School near the Dead Sea where we hiked up and down canyon walls into water waist deep to play in gorgeous pools and waterfalls; Gadna Camp, joining scores of Israeli teenagers in a paramilitary style camp, in uniform, sleeping on straw mats in green canvas tents, going through military maneuvers, climbing over and through obstacle courses, sometimes on our bellies, eating simple foods (bread and jam with dead bees still in it!); Jerusalem and the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, being deeply moved by and connected to our deep Jewish roots; and Kibbutz Gesher Haziv on the Lebanese border, working hard in the cotton fields.
The JCC and United Jewish Federation subsidized much of the cost of Summer Institute for Jewish Living decades before the concept of the free Birthright trips to Israel emerged. Dr. Barry Einhorn, then chair of the Bureau of Jewish Education, envisioned the program and worked hard at promoting and achieving acceptance and support for it. Einhorn recalls that he felt an important feature of the program was the study component to give participants perspective and “greater depth of understanding” and appreciation for the Israel trip. Einhorn traveled to Brandeis University to interview and hire PhD students Steve Mostov (the other tour chaperone) and Larry Sternberg.
Israel experiences for young people have been proven to strengthen bonds to Israel and Judaism, as well as promote Jewish leadership. To select the SIJL participants, the Einhorns asked Tidewater youth group advisors to nominate teens who demonstrated leadership potential and/or who were already leaders in their respective organizations, e.g. Temple youth groups, BBYO, Jewish sororities and fraternities.
Reunion attendees spoke about their adult commitments inspired by their strengthened Jewish identities with the SIJL.
In the early planning stages of the reunion, Marcy Goldsticker Berger summed up best (on our SIJL Facebook page) the sentiments of all of us for this meaningful, fun and for some, life-changing program: “I would love to get together and to see everyone. 40 years! We must include Barry and Lois as well. I continue to thank them for all they did to make that year possible.”
The reunion clearly confirmed the close bonding experience and love for this ‘family’ we created more than 40 years ago.
by Phyllis White