Synagogue trips are in planning stages
It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since the COVID pandemic began. Now that we have acclimated (for the most part) to this new normal, thriving in this post-pandemic world will take some getting used to.
After all, this global event affected everyone and led to the collapse of so many areas of life. One sector hit especially hard was the travel industry. The World Tourism Organization reports that international tourist arrivals declined globally by 73% in 2020, with 1 billion fewer travelers compared to 2019.
Not only does this affect those wanting to travel, but it also impacts the tourism jobs and those who depend on others traveling for their livelihoods. The challenges to travel were unprecedented, and while we are now in a recovery phase, it is not without its issues. Today’s landscape is fraught with enormous demands due to the staggering number of people looking to get back to travel.
The pandemic also revealed how valuable our time is, and for many people having the ability to travel freely is integral to their being. For many local synagogues, community travel with fellow members of their congregation is the highlight of the calendar year. Whether it’s a trip to Israel or to another country, the potential for bonding that can occur on these excursions contributes to memories that will last a lifetime.
Not only does traveling together affect temple engagement, but it also fosters relationships that might not have happened otherwise. Wanderlust can be incredibly contagious.
Beyond experiencing beautiful sites and tasting new foods, a spiritual journey brings us closer to our history, especially when we hear the stories of our people. There are myriad reasons community travel with your synagogue can be beneficial.
Heather Kibel is the executive director of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick and recalled their synagogue trip to Morocco last November. It was led by Rabbi Emeritus Bennett Miller, who recalls, “It was extraordinary. We waited a long time because of COVID but it was worth the wait. We learned about the Jews of Morocco and observed Shabbat in the Sahara desert. It was worth the wait for all 25 of us.”
Gabby Clissold is the cantor at Monmouth Reform Temple in Monmouth County and unfortunately has not been able to host an international trip since before the pandemic began. “I had a trip planned to ‘Jewish Scandinavia’ and was planning to go to Poland, but both got canceled.” Despite those disappointments, Clissold was able to host an educational trip to Ellis Island that was exciting for those who had never been.
For others, it helps to work with a reputable touring agency.
Dan Rozett, manager of Community Relations and Israel Engagement at the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, is working with Israel Maven on all aspects of the itinerary for the Federation-sponsored trip to Israel in late November.
“There will be two tracks, one for first-time visitors and another for returnees,” he explained. “We are arriving on the anniversary of the United Nations partition plan and we will light the first candle of Hanukkah in Israel. I would like to focus on visiting Jerusalem’s holy sites—Masada, Dead Sea, Yad Vashem, as well other sights in the country that are less known such as Qumran, and routes through Jerusalem that highlight the complexities of the city.”
With regards to the coronavirus, they will follow the guidelines of both the United States and Israeli governments.
Israel’s travel and tourism industry is alive and well and eager to welcome groups like the Federation’s and others. Many folks who have been on community excursions say that the overall experience fosters its own little community among those on the trip with you.
Rabbi Philip Bazeley of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick is looking forward to his upcoming tour to Israel.
“We have about 60 people coming with us, including two different buses, one for first-timers and one for those who are returning to Israel. We believe that there is no more critical a time than now for Reform Jews to travel and celebrate the power of Jewish peoplehood and also stand in solidarity with other progressive Jews in Israel,” he said.
Itineraries include a visit to a recreated underground bullet factory, a tour of the Peres Innovation Center, the Roman ruins of Caesarea, a Jeep tour through the Golan Heights and a visit to Kibbutz Ein Zivan.
“We will explore how coexistence plays out in the town of Shefaram and make ice cream in an Arab-Jewish joint venture called Buza,” Bazeley said. “We will explore the challenges of being a Reform Jew in Israel, learn more about Israel’s security challenges at the northern borders, and conduct discussions on coexistence and the future of Israel’s democracy. All of this and more, in addition to visiting Masada, praying at the Kotel, and floating in the Dead Sea.”
Although the landscape of travel will continue to evolve and feel different from pre-pandemic times, the desire to travel remains strong.
GENA ANSELL-LANDE is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.