Crossing the Bridge
Our Family’s Sister City Summer
Editor’s note: The following was written by Peter Weisz, about his family’s recent trip to Israel. Their travel experiences brought to life Federation’s core missions of enriching Jewish life, caring for vulnerable populations and building global Jewish community.
My wife, Alla, has always been an optimist. Thirteen years ago, for example, she sent out notices announcing the birth of “Dr. Martin R. Weisz.” So it was no surprise when, as we sat discussing Martin’s impending Bar Mitzvah project, that she said, “Signing up our family to volunteer should be an easy thing to arrange.”
Exactly how does a Florida family go about volunteering in Israel? Rabbi Leonid Feldman directed us to the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County and its Partnership 2Gether (P2G) program that creates and enhances strong “people to people bonds” between local and global Jewish communities. Our local Federation’s P2G “Sister City” program is in Israel’s TZAHAR Region (an acronym composed of the first letters of the town names of Tzfat, Hatzor, and Rosh Pina).
Our prior connection to the Partnership was through our younger son, Andrew, whose class at the Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy had been “twinned with a class at Rosh Pina’s Vilkomitz Elementary School, where he got to (virtually) know many of his Israeli counterparts.
Martin and I were slated to work with Youth Futures in Hatzor Haglilit as camp counselors, and at Tzfat’s Livnot U’Lehibanot, a far-reaching social service agency with a broad mandate of helping those in need. Alla was assigned to the Mifne Center in Rosh Pina, which boasts the world’s highest success rate in the treatment of autism.
Among the most meaningful moments of our visit:
- A reception at the Kabbalah Center in Tzfat included representatives from various Partnership programs, where the center’s director, Rabbi Eyal Reiss led an authentic Kabbalistic Bar Mitzvah and our campers presented Martin with a handmade booklet of greeting cards.
- The Shabbat dinner where I was seated across from an IDF medic, who shared that he’d been treating wounded Syrian soldiers brought over the border.
- Our trip to the 100-year-old Arab village of Toobah, where the homes were taller than those in Rosh Pina, as floors are built when children and grandchildren marry. Our Arab hosts provided a clearer picture of the true condition of Arabs living in Israel. There is little difference between the dreams and aspirations of Arab and Jewish families. All yearn for a time of peace and stability, prosperity and economic opportunity; in short, a better world.
- A trip to the countryside where we saw Haredi kids, Druze kids, and our own kids having a blast in the water. We witnessed three cultures and ways of life, standing together as part of a peaceful scene with everyone respecting each other’s differences.
- Visiting the Holocaust Museum of Hungarian-Speaking Jews. There, we found a list that provides a historic record of how many Jews were deported from each Hungarian town and when they passed through…and found my own family’s name.
With the knowledge contained in the document we saw and what we know about what took place in Auschwitz, it is almost certain that my grandmother died on June 6, 1944. D-Day, when the allies landed at Normandy to initiate the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination. How different our lives would be had the Allies landed just a bit earlier…
- Touring the garden area at an elementary school, which had with a sizeable parcel of land adjacent to it, ear-marked for the construction of a new petting zoo. Commonplace at Israeli elementary schools, zoos have been proven to help in the emotional and academic development of students.
- A visit with a colorful, dedicated school volunteer named Mark – an American who made aliyah 33 years ago – who now runs a celebrated goat farm and instructed Alla and the boys in the finer points of milking a goat.
We can think of no more meaningful way our family could have marked our son’s Bar Mitzvah. If I had to choose a single personal unforgettable memory of our time in the TZAHAR Region it would be a sunset Shabbat, hosted by Livnot, where we sang as we were led through the traditional Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy. Alla and I both got the chills when singing “Lechah Dodi,” since the words had been composed some 150 years earlier in Tzfat not far from the spot where we stood.
We gained a first-hand understanding of the valuable and far-reaching impact that our donated dollars make on the ongoing viability of this Region. But, even more than that, we gained something intangible; a personal connection to what before was an abstract concept.
When we think of Rosh Pina from now on, we will see smiling faces and savor sweet memories. It is that sort of connection — a connection of the heart — that makes the bridge we are building a strong and enduring one.