South Florida rabbis tour Israel through JNF
Thirteen South Florida rabbis — 10 of whom come from synagogues in Boca Raton — recently toured Israel on a five-day trip organized by Jewish National Fund. The purposes of the trip were to better familiarize the rabbis with the work Jewish National Fund (JNF) is doing in Israel — and to convince the rabbis to encourage their communities to support JNF.
Roni Raab, JNF's South Florida director, said JNF had recently organized a highly successful trip for four or five rabbis from Northern New Jersey as the pilot group — and he thought the rabbis in South Florida — particularly those in Boca Raton — would be a good group to invite on such a trip.
"The Boca Raton rabbis are such a tight-knit community across the denominations that we started with them as the core group," Raab said. "Then we invited about seven or eight other rabbis from around South Florida — three of whom were able to join us."
The group that went on the trip included:
• Boca Raton synagogues: Modern Orthodox: Rabbi Yaakov Gibber (Boca Jewish Center/Shaaray Tefilla); Senior Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and Rabbi Philip Moskowitz (Boca Raton Synagogue); Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur (Congregation Torah Ohr). Chabad: Rabbi Moishe Denburg and Rabbi Arele Gopin (Chabad of Central Boca); Rabbi Ruvi New (Chabad of East Boca); Rabbi Zalman Bukiet (Chabad of West Boca). Conservative: Rabbi David Baum (Congregation Shaarei Kodesh). Other: Rabbi Joshua Broide (Boca Raton Synagogue/Director of Community Engagement for the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County).
• Delray Beach synagogues: Modern Orthodox: Rabbi Menachem Jaroslawicz (Delray Orthodox Synagogue).
• Hollywood synagogues: Modern Orthodox: Rabbi Joseph Weinstock (Young Israel of Hollywood); Chabad: Rabbi Joseph Bronstein (Beis Chabad - Congregation Judea).
The rabbis seemed to have similar reasons for taking the trip.
"I wanted to learn more about JNF and the work it does in Israel — as well as getting to go on a trip to Israel with colleagues and friends," said Baum.
Added New, "This trip provided the opportunity to see places you normally wouldn't get to see on a personal trip or another kind of tour."
Said Weinstock, "The trip gave me an opportunity to explore Israel with some rabbis I know well and others I only knew by name before."
Some of the highlights of the trip included:
• A tour of Ammunition Hill, site of one of the fiercest battles in the Six-Day War;
• A meeting with Special in Uniform's director Tiran Attia and two soldiers from the program — which helps people with disabilities join the Israel Defense Forces;
• A tour of ALEH Negev — a rehabilitation village for disabled children and adults in southern Israel — as well as a meeting with ALEH Negev CEO Avi Wortzman;
• A tour of Halutza, a town in a remote corner of the northwest Negev that JNF is helping transform from barren sands to a flourishing enterprise;
• Tree planting at Neot Kedumim, a Biblical garden and nature preserve located midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv;
• A tour of Akko and a visit to JNF's Western Galilee Visitors' Center; and
• A visit with Green Horizons — which offers educational opportunities for youth in Israel — to see one of their rainwater harvesting projects.
The rabbis were impressed by how many projects (and how wide their scope) JNF is involved with in Israel.
"I wasn't aware of all the work JNF did in Israel," said Baum. "I lived in Israel for two years and had never seen many of these places."
New added, "This trip definitely shattered the presumption that JNF is just about planting trees. There are so many different projects that JNF is involved with in Israel."
Said Weinstock, "I was not aware of all the partnerships JNF has in Israel. I learned so much on this trip."
Raab definitely considered the trip a success.
"The rabbis were definitely enthusiastic and want to bring speakers from our programs in Israel to their congregations to spread the word about what we are doing," Raab said. "The level of excitement on the trip was very encouraging.
"One way of measuring that is that 11 of the 13 rabbis made the commitment to make a donation of at least $1,000 to be part of our Rabbis for Israel affinity program.
"Another measure is that almost all of the rabbis said they would attend — and try to bring congregants — to our national conference from Nov. 10-13 — which is taking place right here in South Florida at The Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood."
Story by Randall P. Lieberman