Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel: The journey continues

by | Sep 11, 2015 | Other News

Ashley Zittrain, Jenny Sachs, Risa and Evan Levitt, Jonathan Muhlendorf, Jeff and Monique Werby, Erinn Portnoy, Greg Zittrain.

Ashley Zittrain, Jenny Sachs, Risa and Evan Levitt, Jonathan Muhlendorf, Jeff and Monique Werby, Erinn Portnoy, Greg Zittrain.

Final installment of a three-part series

The Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel took place June 22 until June 30. This Mission experience was so powerful, so emotional and so impactful that participants are still talking about it.

In their own words:
“Our amazing trip to Israel inspired two important takeaways for me. First, Israel is the Jewish safe haven and we have a moral imperative to support her.

“We heard from a young French teacher who experienced such a high level of threats and intimidation that she fled Paris and made Aliyah to Israel with the Jewish Agency for Israel’s help. She has settled into a new, but different life in Israel and hopes to bring her French family to resettle safely. Jews at risk around the world, or those who wish to live in a Jewish country, are welcomed and integrated with job and language skills into Israeli society. It was inspiring to see that firsthand.

“A recurring message I heard on the trip is that every Jewish life matters. We heard about many people in Israel, the United States and international organizations going to great lengths to ensure a safe and thriving worldwide Jewry. That’s a message I feel I can bring back to Tidewater—that every dollar we give to our Federation, to Israel and to Jews in our own community matters and contributes to the wellbeing of our global Jewish community.”
—Alyssa Muhlendorf

“It was wonderful to visit Israel with my peers after we completed the two-year leadership program together. I hadn’t had that experience since I was a kid with camp friends! It was thrilling to talk to other participants who were experiencing Israel for the first time and to see the Mission through their eyes.

“The Mission experience is a valuable program for our community; I am hopeful that it will be continued and built upon by the Federation and other Jewish agencies in Tidewater. The entire community benefits from the leadership program and the Mission, when participants come home excited to make a difference.”

—Evan Levitt

“I am still thinking about one Mission experience in particular. I was waiting for my ‘ah-ha’ moment that everyone talks about having while on this Mission…by the last day, I had resigned myself to the fact that it might not happen for me. Then, we arrived at Pardes Katz to visit the Matnas, where the children put on a rock and roll performance show for us. I saw hope and courage and confidence in their sparkling eyes! They were smiling and happy and proud. I felt as though they were singing to my heart. As a huge proponent, and former participant, of performing arts programs in schools, I know the difference it can make in their lives. I felt as though I could see the difference the Matnas programs are already making in the lives of these children, many of whom come from poverty- stricken homes. I could have spent all day at the Matnas in Pardes Katz.”

—Stephanie Steerman

“Being at the Kotel on Erev Shabbat was nothing short of magical. It was hard to believe that I was standing at this holy, historic place. I said a silent personal prayer at the wall, then the women of the Hofheimer Mission shared prayers with and for each other. Finally we joined in song with a circle of hundreds of women from around the world. There were palpable threads connecting us to the Jews of the past and to all the Jews in the present. It was an incredible, life-changing experience!”

—Monique Werby

“For me, the entire Mission experience was wrapped in a surreal sense of openness. We experienced so many wonderful things that it is not possible for me to rank them in order of my preference. I will say this—the Mission experience was made great by the equal influences of the group, the guide and guest speakers and the setting—Israel.

“Maybe it was that many of us had never been to Israel and were so amazed by the land? Perhaps we all just connected in the right place at the right time? Or maybe Israel is so enchanting that it does this to everyone who embraces her? I can’t pinpoint it—but the entire Mission was amazing.

“My fellow travelers were open to new experiences and honest with each other, having the courage to engage with each speaker with real questions and concerns, to soak up each site and to be able to go with the flow that made this trip such a deep and meaningful experience. We gained a lot of confidence in each other, we gained an understanding of Israel’s place in the world, and we learned a lot about ourselves through this amazing gift.

“The entire Hineni Leadership program and the Mission to Israel truly felt like a gift, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity.” —Shawn Lemke

by Amy Weinstein