Ten days in Israel can truly turn peoples' lives around. This was the experience of Marc Prine, one of 38 young professionals in their 20s and 30s who participated in the aptly named Israel 360 mission, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
For Prine, who was raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition and had participated in four AISH HaTorah-led missions, this trip, which included an alternative community Shabbat celebration in Tel Aviv, helped him to realize that "there is more than just one way to be Jewish." He said he "loved being part of a delegation of Philadelphians of varied Jewish backgrounds with a common commitment to determining how they want Judaism to fit into their lives."
While Prine described the climb to Masada and praying at the Kotel — elements standard to most mission itineraries as "always inspiring" — he was most affected by his visits to Nirim, a program funded by Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas that helps teenagers at risk of gang involvement and substance abuse to get into the army, find jobs and turn their lives around.
For Prine, a participant in Federation's Renaissance affinity group's Leadership Development Program, Israel 360 afforded him the opportunity to "see Federation-funded programs come to life." The experience has deepened his communal involvement. "I joined the board of directors of Temple University Hillel and told Renaissance staff associate Sarah Bernstein and director Rachel Sigman that I would like to work on outreach activities to get more young people involved in our Jewish community," Prine said.
Clio Mallin, a first-time traveler to Israel, said she's already planning a return trip with her mother. "I want to show her all the sights, sounds, smells, language, culture and beauty of the Jewish homeland." Mallin enjoyed the opportunity to participate in hands-on Jewish experiences, such as planting a pistachio tree in the Neot Kedumim Biblical Garden.
"I'll always remember the dry heat that day, the blazing sun, my hands digging into the rocky, arid soil, touching the earth for the first time, and beginning my relationship with Eretz Yisrael. It was such a little seedling, I was worried it would have a hard time, but was told my tree would be watered for the first year, until it was strong enough to continue to grow on its own."
Another highlight for Mallin was the group's visit to Hazon Yeshaya, a network of soup kitchens that serve the more than 25 percent of Israelis who live below the poverty line.
After Mallin finished her stint packaging food for distribution and serving meals to Holocaust survivors, she had an animated conversation with a man who was trying to secure a slice of watermelon for a little girl who had missed the lunch line. Despite her inability to speak Hebrew, the two communicated through gestures and the child received the sweet treat.
In Netivot, one of the Philadelphia Jewish community's Partnership 2000 projects, the delegation helped prepare fresh couscous and veggie fritters alongside women who recently emigrated from North Africa and Ukraine. The Philadelphians learned that Federation support has helped these women start a catering business that enables them to earn an income by creating these home-cooked meals.
The group delivered meals to Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were protecting the border with Gaza. "I felt humbled and so grateful for their service," said Mallin.
She is very close to her grandfather, who was one of the first people to learn that she was selected for the Israel 360 mission. "When I told him my great news, I learned that he had taken my father to Israel in 1962. He remembered the country's dirt roads and the pioneering spirit of its people. He looked forward to hearing how Israel had changed since his visit nearly 50 years ago," she said.
The day the group returned from Israel was her grandfather's 93rd birthday. At a family dinner celebration, Mallin regaled him with stories of Israel's technological prowess, its sophisticated security-surveillance systems and engineering achievements that touched every aspect of Israeli society.
The guest of honor also had something to share with his granddaughter — a photo album from his 1962 visit. "I was astonished to learn that we had traveled the same routes — Jerusalem, Tiberia and Tel Aviv. Looking at these photos enhanced my understanding of the concept ofl'dor v'dor, that one generation is truly connected to the other," she said.
Mallin believes that Israel 360 has created a community of Jewish peers. "We have shared a deeply meaningful experience and created friendships that are continuing back in Philadelphia, and I am sure will create ripple effects in our community for years to come," she said.
Since the delegation returned in early June, they have enjoyed a performance of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Music Center, participated in a special Havdalah service at the New Jersey shore and have attended a film screening of "Sarah's Key," as well as a Shabbat service in Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens.
She looks forward to participating in Renaissance group programs and having social-action opportunities with Federation and other Jewish organizations. "Thanks to our participation in Israel 360, we have seen firsthand the social-service needs in Israel, and we know the need is just as great in our own backyard," she said. "I am confident that our group will continue to come together in big and small ways to support and serve the Jewish community of Philadelphia."
For more information about Federation's Renaissance group, call Rachel Sigman at 215-832-0513 or email her at email@example.com.