The Philadelphia Jewish community has been well-represented in Israel this fall. Three separate delegations have participated in missions-bringing delegates of first-timers and returnees, Jews and Christians, and young and not-so-young people to tour the Mideast's only democratic nation.
Members of Federation's Renaissance Group — a group of Jewish men and women, ages 25 to 45, who are committed to making a difference through volunteerism and fundraising — toured religious and cultural sites and visited health, education and social-service programs supported by Federation dollars. Mission chair Deborah Gordon Klehr made certain that the itinerary also included ample time for fun.
The 50-strong delegation of Philadelphians who traveled to the Jewish homeland on an Israel 60 Mission — led by co-chairs Ann and Murray Spain, and Marian and Elliot Fisher — demonstrated the power of Israel to inspire philanthropy.
The group, many of whom had traveled with the two couples on their 1984 mission to Israel, raised $365,000 for the Federation annual campaign, a 20 percent increase over last year's tally. Two women joined the elite ranks of Lion of Judah (members of Women's Philanthropy who make an annual campaign commitment of $5,000), and three additional women joined at the Pomegranate level (those who make a minimum gift of $1,800).
Ann Spain said that participating on a Federation mission is "an extraordinary experience."
"Federation gives you access to agencies and organizations and high-level Israeli leadership that you can't find anywhere else," she added.
This year's itinerary was no exception, including visits to Orr Shalom family group homes for children at risk and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee–Eshel programs for elderly Jews.
Murray Spain, who first visited Israel with his wife in 1981, believes that Israel is just "magical."
"A mission gives you a person to person connection with our Jewish homeland," he commented, adding that "once you've experienced Israel in this manner, it puts our relationship with the Jewish state in an entirely different perspective."
Marian Fisher has traveled to Israel five times, and is amazed that "each time, I discover something new." She was so moved by her visit with a lone soldier — one of approximately 2,500 young men and women who leave their native countries to move to Israel to defend the Jewish homeland — that she called the young man's parents upon her return to Philadelphia. "From one mother to another, I wanted to reassure her that her extraordinary son was safe."
Elliot Fisher has led three missions with Murray Spain. One of the highlights of this particular trip was a visit to the Barrer Arts Center, which develops and operates educational projects within this multicultural area of the western Galilee. Mission participants have helped raise funds for the construction of a new building and participated in a cornerstone ceremony.
Fisher was moved by the caucus held on their final day: "All 50 delegates expressed their enthusiasm and excitement for this amazing experience — a mission to Israel."
For assistance in planning an Israel travel experience, call Beth Razin at 215-832-0536.