" Chaverim , I want to tell you about …." And so began our days on the bus during our JUF Couples Mission to Israel this past fall, chaired by Robin and David Nankin. In the beginning, many of us did not know that "chaver" or its plural, "chaverim," meant friend(s). Yet after eight days of touring Israel, and laughing and crying together, we became chaverim on the trip of a lifetime.
Some of us were first-timers to Israel; others had visited several times before. So, how does JUF find a way to keep us all engaged and leave us all wanting more? By expanding our understanding of Israel and its complexities with high level speakers from the Army, Navy, Knesset, among others.
Imagine sitting on a large rock on top of Mount Bental on the northern border of Israel. Immediately to your left are the U.N. Peacekeepers and not so far beyond them are the hills of Lebanon. To your right is Syria. And just in front of you is Brigadier General Nitzan Nuriel explaining all the security issues in the region.
The General tells us about the Syrian village just below in the valley that is constantly facing attacks by Syrian forces, as we hear shells exploding in the background. The peacekeepers-who are there to observe who might first destroy the peace-didn't flinch, nor did the General, but our hearts were in our throats. We hung onto every word as he talked about Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, the United States, the United Nations, Shiites, and Sunnis.
Our hearts swelled as General Nuriel explained how Israel's Operation Good Neighbor--which has set up a field hospital along the Syrian border--exemplifies the Israeli ethos to take care of anyone who needs help. Practically speaking, this is a smart way to show the thousands of Syrians receiving medical aid that Israel is not the problem-rather it is part of the solution.
Our heads were spinning as he unfolded his maps and discussed threats coming from all directions, but concluded that Israel is and will remain safe from these external powers. After our longer-than-scheduled visit, we heard our guide, Ronnie, say, " Chaverim , we're late, we need to go."
Whether it was talking with the General, a 23-year-old Navy Captain, four generations of a family that served in the same Israel Defense Forces unit, a Golani Scout hero from the tank unit that fought at Tel Saki, a member of the Knesset, or a professor of archeology, each time we heard, " Chaverim , please, we're late." This clearly was not your typical trip to Israel. In fact, it's probably safe to say that no JUF Mission is a typical trip to Israel."
And no JUF mission is complete without a site visit to our Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir, to learn about the organizations that we, through JUF, support, including ORT, Nirim, SAHI, and Krembo Wings.
We built LEGO wind turbines with first graders at ORT's YOUniversity after-school program. ORT provides STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education worldwide. We participated in an exercise that Nirim uses to attract at-risk youth to their program to give them the experience of success. We learned about the power of giving from at-risk youth of SAHI, who are bettering themselves by contributing to their own community and providing meals to those most in need. And we ate Krembos (chocolate-coated marshmallow treats popular in Israel) with the angels of Krembo Wings who befriend and help children with severe disabilities. Through all of these programs, we gained a deeper appreciation of how our JUF dollars are so well spent.
Roberta Goodman, of Highland Park, is an attorney and executive vice president of ORT's Metropolitan Chicago Region.
For more information about JUF Missions, contact Samantha Wolf, assistant vice president of Missions and Campaign, at SamanthaWolf@juf.org or (312) 357-4692.