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August 12, 2014 By:
Marshaling the Spirit of the First Mega Mission, 25 Years Later
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the original Mission 1000, a unique project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia with historic significance. Under the co-chairmanship of Paul Silberberg, Carol Summers, Ed Glickman and the presidency of Mimi Schneirov, Mission 1000 achieved acclaim for Philadelphia that no other city in the U.S. had ever achieved by sending a massive contingent to Israel in 1989 to demonstrate support and unity during the first intifada.
Because of the Palestinian uprising, Israel had suffered a devastating drop in tourism from the friends and family they relied on most – American Jews. Convincing EL AL to fly two 747s into Philadelphia and then fly in formation to Israel and land in Eilat while the journey was broadcast on local networks in Philly was a feat built upon Herzel’s philosophy: If you will it, it is no dream.
The dreaming — and planning — began in August 1988. Driven by the steadfast belief that Israel needed us, mission leaders combined hard work and creativity to prove that it was possible to recruit 1,000 participants in less than a year. They came from synagogues, young leadership groups, local agencies, cultural organizations, country clubs, and geographic community groups such as Cherry Hill, N.J., and Buxmont to demonstrate firsthand that they stood with Israel.
The trip departed the following April. Once there, the group split into 25 buses of 40 people each, which traveled with separate itineraries but came together for several joint events. For many of the travelers, the mission was their first experience with the organized Jewish community and Israel. Part of goal of the mission was to make it the start of a lifetime endeavor, an investment in the future of the local Jewish community.
This grassroots expression of solidarity was widely covered by the media in Philadelphia and Israel, and Israelis from all walks of life were highly appreciative of our presence. We also received some national coverage from ABC, CBS and NBC thanks to local affiliates who sent anchors to travel on the mission and file reports every evening via satellite. Thus, 4 million people in the Delaware Valley saw sustained positive images of Israel — on live television — hopefully countering the negative publicity blitz caused by the intifada.
The major events on Mission 1000 were phenomenal. Never before had Philadelphia attempted such large events: a solidarity rally in Jerusalem, a large military demonstration; a torchlight procession down the Roman Ramp followed by a sound-and-light show at Masada, a memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem, Shabbat at the Western Wall and a mega gala closing party. The power of 1,000 members of the community coming together was awesome.
This was the first massive "Mega Mission," designed to be a lasting testament to the special relationship between Philadelphia and Israel. Following the trip, Philadelphia leaders hosted a national meeting designed to train communities throughout the United Jewish Community (formerly UJA) system on how to plan, recruit, program and engage the community in the process. In 1990, several daylong on-site training sessions were held with staff members of Federations in Washington, D.C., Miami, New York and Toronto in order to impart lessons learned and reinforce the Mission 1000 model.
So, 25 years later, was the project successful in inspiring participants to stay involved or get more involved with leadership opportunities in the Jewish community? How many went on to assume communal roles with other organizations or synagogues? How many brought their families back to Israel? How many still feel an affinity when they run into a fellow participant?
While there was no longitudinal study conducted, the mission did inspire those who were fearful of going to Israel to take the plunge and many did return over the years with family and friends. According to anecdotes we heard, the captains of the 25 bus groups stayed connected to the participants and held gatherings for years following the mission. Two other mega missions were held under the Mission 1000 banner in Philadelphia as well as other communities around the country. And Philadelphia was strengthened by an influx of new leadership and involvement.
The Mission 1000 staff created a template for connecting with Israel during difficult times. As much as things have changed in 25 years, American Jewry’s solidarity with Israel is still sorely needed and this milestone anniversary comes at an especially poignant time. Israel is under great international pressure, but that is not a unique status for the Jewish homeland. As Operation Protective Edge continues, it is so important for us to highlight the differences between Israel and Hamas and the need for moral clarity in this conflict. The UN is considering war crimes against Israel for a defensive action that has been carried out with enormous restraint.
Since 2005, more than 9,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel, endangering the population and impacting daily life. Let’s marshal some of that Mission 1000 spirit and creativity and continue with the solidarity rallies, outreach to elected officials, postings on social media, missions to Israel and financial support to advocate for democratic values, peace and security in the Middle East. Mission 1000 participants made a difference with their actions and voices 25 years ago and that is what is still needed today.
Marcia Bronstein is the regional director of the AJC and was a lead staff member on Mission 1000.