Tidewater Men’s Leadership Mission

by | Aug 16, 2012 | Uncategorized

So, let’s say you’re a Jewish community leader… And let’s say you have a vision for the future of the Jewish community—not just the community of Tidewater, but the global Jewish community…. And let’s say that vision requires future leadership to bring it to fruition. What do you do to make that happen?

Why, you invite 50 of your closest “friends” to join you on a trip to Israel. And that is exactly what Art and Steve Sandler did. This July, 51 men from the Tidewater Jewish community traveled together on a remarkable journey—back in time AND into the future. And they didn’t need a time machine to get there…just a couple of planes and a great big tour bus to bring them to the land of Israel.

Museum of The Jewish People.

Museum of The Jewish People.

During this Men’s Leadership Mission (the second of its kind—organized, led, and heavily-funded by the Sandler Family) Tidewater’s future leaders heard from topnotch speakers, visited unique sites, and experienced first-hand the visceral connection that exists today and must continue to exist between all Jews and the Jewish land of Israel.

Comprised primarily of emerging Jewish community leaders, along with a handful of more seasoned leaders, each participant came into the mix with his own set of expectations about what the trip would bring. High-spirited and enthusiastic, most (though not all) had been to Israel before. Most serve on local Jewish agency and synagogue boards. Some support AIPAC. And many are “graduates” of Federation-sponsored leadership development programs. All shared the desire to help strengthen and ensure the future of the Jewish community and Jewish world.

One mission goal was to create bonds of friendship and support among the participants. These friendships will benefit the community for years to come, in ways most cannot even imagine. Tidewater’s Jewish leaders now have an expanded “peer group” they can go to for guidance and support when difficult decisions must be made.

The mission also sought to bring its participants closer (in body and spirit) to the People and the Land of Israel, to embed in their souls the passion of the country, a passion they could bring home to their boards and committees—to lead with the great energy, high ideals, and high standards that Israel represents.

True, Israel is the land of our ancestors (this was evident wherever the group traveled— from Tel Aviv to Yafo to Caesarea to Jerusalem). But it is also the land of Herzl and Ben Gurion, of giant ideas and undertakings. It’s the land of ethical ideas, ideals, and practices; a land of high tech-nology and entrepreneurship; and a land of immense and growing intellectual promise.

And it’s a land which uses that very intelligence to face its internal and external challenges (demonstrated at visits to a JDC program site, an Israeli Navy Seal Base, and a manufacturing facility for electric cars). Amidst growing concern that young American Jews are disconnected from the land and people of Israel, this mission aimed to create and strengthen those personal connections for each participant. From food and wine to text study and discussion… from planting trees in a “biblical forest,” to problem solving with vulnerable Israeli teenagers…from high-tech Tel Aviv to ancient Jerusalem…the mission was a study in contrasts, all of which came together to make sense, in a very “Israeli” sort of way.

When asked about their vision for this mission, co-chair Steve Sandler says, “If two people having the same values can accomplish more working together than separately, than what can 50 like-minded people do working together? Our goal was to take a group of potential leaders to Israel and share a common bond. We hope that the bond between these leaders (and also between the other leaders who shared a similar mission six years ago) will work to assure and insure the future of our wonderful Jewish community.”

Mission co-chair Art Sandler adds, “I am very proud to have done this with my brother. We are acting on the influences of our family and parents.” The Sandlers had been thinking about “what they could do to make an enduring impact on the community.” This mission was the answer. “And we look forward to doing it again in the future,” he says. “You build a community through shared experiences. That is what this trip did. We were busy morning until night, seeing things that others don’t see. We shared experiences.”

Okay, so traveling to Israel with 50 of your closest friends may not be the easiest undertaking. It has a few challenges that go along with it… but when it works, and this mission did, there’s nothing more gratifying. And when it works, the entire community reaps the rewards.

by Amy Zelenka

Thoughts and reflections on the Men’s Mission to Israel from some participants

Bill Miller
That was the second time I visited Israel; of course it will not be the last experience. Before we left on July 21 (Eric’s birthday), I accepted my brother’s recommendation— have fun and keep an open mind. Overall, it was a good time even though a few of us spent time under the weather. The number one lesson I took from the mission would be to find balance in life. I would like to “share myself” with work, community involvement, family time and personal time. Thank G-d PTO (personal time off) exists in the workplace. Israel is a great State.

Andrew Nusbaum
As a first timer to Israel, I couldn’t have been more excited to go on this trip. While I have been fortunate to travel many places, Israel always seemed to escape me and yet has been the place I’ve most wanted to go. However, when we sat down to dinner the first night it hit me that for whatever reason, I was meant to experience Israel at this point in time, with this group of men.

For me, the meaningful part of the trip didn’t come from one particular speaker or place, but rather the connection between our community members and those we interacted with throughout the week. It was special to be around so many Jewish people, in such a storied location as Israel.

More than that, it was hopeful and inspiring to experience so much diversity in such a limited geographical space. To see various types of people living side by side reminds me that we are more similar than we are different, there is more good than bad in the world, and we have more reason to reach out to others than to be afraid of them.

Israel felt like home away from home. I couldn’t have been more excited to go to Israel. The experience exceeded all expectations. I couldn’t be more proud to be Jewish. To share this experience with fellow members of our community was the best part. Oh…and the food was fantastic! When are we going back?

Jason Alper
It is truly amazing to see so many different individuals, beliefs, ideas and histories come together and live in one land, the land of Israel. With a language thousands of years old, people from across the globe have come together to form one land and one nation, the Jewish Homeland of Israel.

Hassidic Jews, Ethiopian immigrants, troubled teens, young military SEAL warriors, Reform rabbis; all are trying and succeeding in working together to exist as one people in one land. The problems that these brave and pioneering individuals fight daily truly make our day to day difficulties here in the States pale by comparison. A trip to Israel is an eye opening and inspirational trip; it is one I would strongly recommend to any fellow Jew, and it truly inspires me and others to work and support Israel, in order to insure a safe haven and Homeland for all the Jewish people across the globe.

Marty Snyder
For me, the most meaningful event was our Security Barrier and Eyal Checkpoint tour with Ross Culiner. His running commentary brought into perspective the historical, socio-economic, political and religious factors that make the State of Israel the dynamic and culturally complex entity that it is. It re-enforced for me the concept that Israel is a state of mind, centered around a religious belief. Avraham Infeld’s comment that Judaism is not a religion may at first shock, but when put into context of Mishpacha (family) it truly defines what it means to live “a Jewish life…”

Steve Zuckerman
For me, Israel is the most wonderful place on Earth and I am constantly baffled and disheartened by the news media’s coverage of what is really happening on the ground. While groups like Hamas fire some 500+ rockets into Israel and no less than 12 attacks on Israel were intercepted in the past month, we all hear on the news is how the Palestinian people are being treated inhumanly via Israel’s use of fences and border checkpoints.

On our visit to one of these checkpoints outside of Jerusalem we saw first-hand how Israelis ease the personal hardships of those who pass through the boarders. The real stance the news media should take is that this process is simple homeland security and that these fences and border checkpoints were not built by the Israelis, but by the terrorists themselves.

Seth Fleishman For me, the best part of the trip was the opportunity to better get to know the other participants. While I had some good friends on the trip, there were many others with whom I’d never had a chance to converse. In terms of the Israel experience, I enjoyed the activities that made my Israeli wife/ friends jealous: visiting the Navy Seals base, driving the electric car, and seeing security behind the scenes at the checkpoint and Old City. For the sake of our community, I am most interested in seeing the lasting impact of the trip on the participants. Will we be more active in a year? Five years? 10 years? 20 years? It could have that kind of impact (at least for some).

David Leon The last full day of the 11-month period of daily Kaddish recitation for my mother fell on the day we arrived in Jerusalem. I was able to say Kaddish at the Kotel with a minyan made-up of men from our trip… in the country my mother loved tremendously. It is hard to think that this was not bashert. I could not have planned a more perfect way to end the daily Kaddish for my mother.

Ed Epstein
It has been 13 years since I took my youngest daughter to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah in Israel and introduce her to her heritage and its history. A visit to Israel is both a physical and spiritual journey, and on a personal note, an opportunity to reconnect to my heritage and recharge my “Jewish battery.” Israel, too, has external and internal challenges, but the optimistic spirit of the people to excel and stay ahead of adversity was most impressive. The recognition that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary accomplishments to the betterment of society is an inspiration.

Max Sandler
I have traveled all over the world and done some pretty incredible things, but VERY few of them compare to that trip. I think the most interesting thing/event that we did was the visit to JDC’s MAFTEACH program. Unfortunately, I am so disconnected with what’s going on in Israel that I had no idea the issues surrounding both conscription and employment of the ultra-orthodox community. The evolution of the social, economic and political climate in Israel is occurring right before our eyes and this issue is pressing. It was wonderful to see and hear the evolution of the mindset of some in the ultra-orthodox community as well. Ten years ago they weren’t working and they weren’t participating in the army. Now times are changing and JDC is at the forefront of that change. Incredibly interesting stuff.