Update from Jan Goldstein

Going to Israel isn’t just another trip…
…and next year, our Federation will be offering an extraordinary opportunity for our Omaha Jewish Community to explore Israel together, from north to south. We’re calling the trip Meet Me in Jerusalem! and it’s taking place March 15-26, 2023. Information sessions will be held on August 25 and October 6 at 6:00 p.m. in the Benjamin & Anna E. Wiesman Family Reception Room.

According to JFO President Mike Siegel, “Our goal is to enable as many community members as possible to experience their personal connection to the Jewish homeland and travel together as one community. This will be different from simply taking just another trip or vacation. Our journey will be an unforgettable shared experience, whether it’s your first visit in many years, or your first trip ever to Israel. We want our community to learn more about the American/Israel connection and how we are very much a part of it. On the tour we’ll visit our Partnership Region in the Western Galilee, meet members of the local community, immerse ourselves in the tapestry of Israeli culture, and witness how Omaha has invested our local dollars to help build the Jewish nation.”

I want to add a BIG THANKS to the Federation Board under the leadership of Mike Siegel, who understands the importance of Israel to our Federation and has the passion to fully revitalize our long time Missions program, providing the staff and resources to make these kinds of opportunities possible for all ages in our community.

Israel travel has burst wide open in recent months after the pandemic prompted a nearly two-year shutdown. While tourism is now working its way back to its previous 4.8 million visitors per year, trip participants have different expectations than they once did. In response, the JFO aims to provide meaningful experiences and the opportunity not only to see the ancient places of the past, but to understand the history that unfolded around them, including more modern history, such as how the State of Israel came into being. This trip is designed to highlight these various significant aspects for both first-timers and repeat visitors who are in for a surprise at just how much the country has changed over the past decade.

Since I began my professional career over 30 years ago, I have been privileged to make it part of my life’s work to have helped thousands of people visit Israel. I have led over 50 missions and have made many more personal trips on my own. If you were to ask me, “Haven’t you seen it all?” I would tell you, “Absolutely not!” There is so much to experience in this tiny, remarkable country and the world is now taking notice of the way Israel leads and makes a global impact in almost every industry and cultural area it touches.

So, by this point you’ve hopefully figured out WHY an Israel trip is not just another trip, but why do so many go?

There are many reasons. Some have always known they wanted one day to visit Israel. Others decide to go because they’ve heard so much from others who have gone and they see their reactions, or they have sent their kids on a teen trip and saw the effect it had. Maybe they took a biblical or Jewish historical class, or after hearing so much about Israel in the news they just wanted to know more for themselves. And for many, they grew up with parents and grandparents who longed to go, just as Diaspora Jews yearn to return to the Land of Israel. Just as we say at the end of every Passover Seder, “next year in Jerusalem.”

I want to tell you a story from my early years as JFO Missions Director when I was asked by National UJA Missions to be one of the lead professional staff on a multi-bus mission. Assigned to my bus was an older gentleman from another Midwestern city who called me because he wanted desperately to go and had signed up, but was concerned that because of his age and some limitations, he might not be able to make it. It was his life’s dream to finally visit Israel, and did I think he could do it? After much discussion I felt he could physically, and equally important, I felt we needed to get him there. He went, and he did fine. The day we were getting ready to leave, he pulled me aside, kindly took my hand and said, “All my life I have been going to Temple, giving to my Jewish Federation, teaching my children and grandchildren the importance of Judaism, and I supported Israel through every decade. I’ve lived a good Jewish life. I always wanted to come to Israel, but I never made the time to do it, and something always got in the way. I am now 89 years old; I didn’t think I was going to get here, but I made it and I am so grateful to UJA Missions and to you. I have peace to have visited this place we call Home. Thank you.”

So, I’m saying to any of you: IF you are thinking of waiting, DON’T! Figure out YOUR reason why a trip to Israel is important to you and make the commitment now so you can discover your story, your history, your truths, and your connections to a place that we say “Journey Home To.” Join us in March on the Omaha Community Trip to Israel. You’ll be glad you did!

Shabbat Shalom,
Jan Goldstein
Programming and Campaign Consultant