Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel: The journey begins

by | Aug 18, 2015 | Other News

Twenty young adults, all graduates of the Hineni! Institute for Leadership Development, boarded an airplane on Monday, June 22 bound for Israel. The Hineni! Institute for Leadership Development is the advanced leadership program for volunteers within the Young Adult Division of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Ten of the travelers had never visited Israel before, and none of them had ever experienced anything like the Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel. After a shared leadership development journey, this trip would fortify their connection to the Tidewater Jewish community, Israel and each other. Throughout their journey, their friends, family and community in Virginia were never far from their minds, particularly when visiting important places that are funded in part by an allocation from the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Annual Campaign.

When the group arrived in Tel Aviv on June 23, they began their journey with a powerful site visit, driving north to Pardes Hanna to visit with the children living at Neve Michael Youth Village. Neve Michael is a residential home for children who are victims of neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and need a safe place to live.

Other highlights from the first half of the Mission included visiting the UJFTfunded ORT Schoenbaum Campus and the JDC’s Center for Young Adults, both in Kiryat Yam.

The group enjoyed kayaking down the Jordan River, visiting the spiritual city of Tzfat, and riding ATVs to the Syrian border at the UN checkpoint.

Together, the Mission group navigated a series of experiences that evoked particular emotions, ranging from pride to shock to love, as they traveled through the history of the land of Israel and the Jewish people. As evidenced in their photos and their own words, this Mission experience was life changing, and the Tidewater community will be better for it.

Check the next issue of the Jewish News for more comments from the participants about their Israel experience.

In Their Own Words: Participants of the 2015 Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel

“I grew up in a Reform Jewish household, one where we attended temple on the High Holy Days, but Judaism was never part of our daily lives. I could never really understand why Judaism was even important to my parents, given that our practice of it felt so culturally based. I was a Religious Studies major in college and went in search of religious answers, but I never really found what I was looking for until this mission trip to Israel. Avraham Infeld explains that, as Jews, we are a People. That comes first, before religion, before statehood, before any other way we choose to identify. Suddenly it made sense to me that, despite my differences to an Orthodox woman in Israel, there is a oneness that we both feel when we see challah being prepared. I hope to make my son understand this oneness in a way that I never did. Matthew and I cannot wait to bring him to Israel so that he can understand his birthright and help to protect it, the way we feel committed to do.” —Jenny Sachs

“I remember when I first told others in the community that Ashley and I were considering doing the Hineni! program. I was met with a mixed bag of encouragement and skepticism: skepticism about whether or not it’s a prudent use of funds, whether or not the Federation is getting the bang for its buck. Well, now that I have been through the entire experience myself, I can’t wait to talk to people in our community about this incredible program and Mission. I will tell them that this is a life-changing process, that the Hineni! leadership team has done an excellent job. I came back from the Mission with a new understanding and a renewed commitment to both the people of Israel and really, a commitment to our own community here. We should take nothing for granted, and it takes work to build and continue to build community. Our synagogues, HAT, the Simon Family JCC, the Sandler Family Campus –it is a place for our families to feel safe and we need to work to keep it that way.” —Greg Zittrain

“The overall Mission experience was incredible. I personally enjoyed it all. I felt it was experiential, diverse and fun. I want to emphasize how privileged I feel to be a part of such a strong Federation and strong Jewish community. I am grateful for the Tidewater Couples Project and Hineni! Institute for Leadership Development, and look forward the future and making my own contribution to our thriving community.” —Danielle Leibovici

by Amy Weinstein