Friday, October 31, 2014 Heshvan 7, 5775

Israel360: A Transformative Experience for Young Couples

August 7, 2014 By:
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Participants in Federation's Israel 360 trip for couples packed boxes of food for Israel's national food bank, Latet.
Sari Elizabeth Rothrock and her husband, Kel Elkins, don’t share the same religion but they are united in their belief that Federation’s first Israel360 trip for couples has strengthened their connections to Israel and to the Philadelphia Jewish community. The couple, one of 20 to travel to the Jewish homeland under the auspices of Federation’s Renaissance affinity group, felt “welcomed and accepted” during the 10-day adventure, May 22 to June 1.
 
During the program, which is heavily subsidized by Federation’s Center for Israel and Overseas, these young professionals, ages 27 to 35, who live in Greater Philadelphia, embarked on a transformational journey. They invested just $360 per person for this unique opportunity to immerse themselves in Israeli history, culture, politics, food, music, religion and much, much more. 
 
Sari and Kel wanted to get involved in a community organization that would give them the opportunity to volunteer in a meaningful way. “We are grateful that, through Renaissance Group, we are making a difference in the Philadelphia area,” Sari said, adding that they really enjoyed visiting some of the Federation-funded programs that benefit Israelis. “We now see the difference that Federation makes both here in Greater Philadelphia and abroad through programs that are clearly well-organized, well-vetted and worthwhile,” she said, enthusing that “we are excited to get more involved.”
 
Brian and Stephanie Levinson learned about the Holocaust and other pivotal events in contemporary Jewish history in Hebrew school when they were children. These lessons came to life when they traveled to Israel on the mission and toured such sites as Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, where David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first president, declared the establishment of a Jewish state to be known as the State of Israel.
 
This trip, the couple’s first Israel travel adventure, instilled in them a strong connection to the land and people of the Jewish state. “We toured the historic and cultural sites, visited Federation’s P2Gether community of Netivot and met with Israelis,” Brian said, adding that the itinerary provided them with a good balance of experiences.
 
 
The couple are proud parents of two young sons, both of whom have enjoyed a Jewish pre-school experience at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen. Their Israel experience has added an entirely new dimension to their Jewish parenting. Stephanie explained that “Brian and I want to transmit our love for Israel to our boys and help them to understand how important Israel is to Judaism and the Jewish people.” The Levinsons plan to return to Israel as a family when the boys are older.
 
Dara Kates and Jon Katz will always remember the mission’s trip to the Kotel during Kabbalat Shabbat. “Jon dropped to his knees and asked me to be his wife,” she recalled, adding that “the proposal was an extra special way to celebrate their six years together as a couple.” Dara, a member of Renaissance’s Leadership Development Program, really enjoyed visiting the Israeli programs that Federation funds help support. As a social worker who helps homeless veterans, she found the site visit to Nirim in Or Akiva, a program that helps troubled teens at risk of gang and drug involvement, particularly meaningful. 
 
Both Dara and Jon had visited Israel before — she as a participant on Birthright Israel and he as a member of his synagogue’s confirmation class. Yet this trip — their first overseas experience as a couple — was very different. “We met one-on-one with Israelis in different communities throughout the Jewish homeland and saw the impact of the programs and projects that Federation supports there,” she said, adding that the experience has heightened the couple’s commitment to Jewish community involvement.
 
The Renaissance Group is committed to serving young professionals 22 to 45 at all stages of life. 
 
“We felt that the Israel360 couples group was an ideal way to continue to engage our members who are dating, engaged, married and/or raising their families, and build their connection to Israel,” said Sarah Bernstein Solomon, Renaissance Group director. She emphasized the diversity of the group, noting that “one quarter of the participants were interfaith couples, and 35 percent of those selected for the trip had never before traveled to Israel.” The remainder had not been to Israel on an organized trip for five to 10 years.
 
All participants are expected to continue the connection to Federation and the Jewish community that they made during the mission, by participating in post-trip workshops, Renaissance Group programming and key community events such as Federation’s Super Sunday and Israel Independence Day.
 

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