When mononucleosis dashed Margie Schultz's plans to spend a summer in Israel in 1973, it never occurred to the teenager that it would be 30 years before she would see the Promised Land.
Schultz heard about Israel from her father, who made dozens of trips while funding his dream of sending each child and grandchild to visit. But the timing was never right for her to reschedule her own trip, and then her father died. Upon learning in 2003 that leaders from her synagogue, Tiferet Bet Israel, and other area synagogues were planning the first ever Bux-Mont community mission, the Norristown mother of three decided to make her father's dream come true.
|On Bux-Mont's 2003 trip to Israel (from left) Rabbi Saul Grife, of Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim, and Ali Hershman and Alex Schultz participate in the teens' B'nai Mitzvah.|
Two years ago, Schultz and her then 14-year-old son, Alex, made the nine-day trip with 91 others through YAHAD, a collaborative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Bux-Mont Region office and nine area synagogues. "I finally understood everything he had been telling me about what Israel means to American Jews," says Schultz. "It gave us a sense of home."
The trip was such a success that YAHAD decided to run a similar one every two years. On Dec. 22, 135 people affiliated with five Bux-Mont synagogues will travel to Israel on an 11-day journey thanks to subsidies provided by Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas and Bux-Mont Region.
"There's something for everyone on this kind of trip," says Bux-Mont Region director Roberta Matz. "People who haven't been there in years see a new Israel, and multi-generational families find the perfect way to celebrate B'nai Mitzvah – all while building relationships with each other and the rabbis."
Community trips are taking off throughout Greater Philadelphia. Last year, the Bucks County region and Old York Road Kehillah went on their own trips, and this year, Kehillah of Lower Merion will visit Israel around the same time as Bux-Mont.
"Nothing replaces the personal experience of being in Israel," says Beth Razin, who oversees missions for the Center for Israel and Overseas. "These trips represent an amazing opportunity to connect people to the global Jewish community as well as to each other."
Accompanying this year's Bux-Mont group are two rabbis who went on the 2003 trip: Rabbi Saul Grife of Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim and Rabbi David Ackerman of Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell. "The strength of community support for the first trip was overwhelming," says Rabbi Ackerman. "I'm thrilled to help build on our community's commitment to Israel."
Rabbi Adam Wohlberg from Temple Sinai in Dresher will also participate. "I am looking forward to helping people gain an appreciation for Israel's beauty, vitality, courage and challenges," says Rabbi Wohlberg. "I hope they return home with a deeper understanding of Israelis and a greater love for Israel."
A first-ever, community-wide confirmation class trip is happening in conjunction with the December Bux-Mont mission, and about 15 congregants will participate in a B'nai Mitzvah ceremony as in 2003. But not every B'nai Mitzvah participant then was a teenager. Bruce Risler of Lafayette Hill went on the trip with his mother, Ruth Risler, who read from the Torah for the first time – at age 83.
"My mother and I became really close, especially since I got to witness the Bat Mitzvah ceremony she'd never had," says Risler. "Now I'm going back with my wife, Sheri, and my daughter, Stephanie. It's nice to be in a place where we belong."