David Solomon and Ian Scheinmann -- emerging leaders in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community -- participated last month in a national mission to Israel. The intensive, two-day visit, which was organized under the auspices of the United Jewish Communities Next Generation Initiative, was designed to show solidarity and support with the people of southern Israel in the immediate aftermath of the Israel Defense Force's Operation Cast Lead.
The two were part of a delegation of 15 men and women throughout North America in their 30s and 40s who were selected in the hope that they would be "inspired, educated and motivated by this unique experience," according to Danyelle Neuman, director of this UJC leadership initiative.
If Solomon and Scheinmann's experiences were any indication, this mission did indeed accomplish its goals. While both men had traveled to Israel before on numerous occasions, this visit was both unique and meaningful, as they got to see firsthand the impact of the Hamas missile strikes fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
David Solomon, a member of Federation's Institute for Advanced Jewish Leadership, has Jewish communal involvement in his gene pool. He is the son of Carole Solomon, former chairwoman of both the Jewish Agency and United Jewish Communities, and Mark Solomon, a past chairman of Federation's Annual Campaign, and a former Federation vice president, secretary and treasurer. He also served as a past national chairman of United Jewish Appeal (a forerunner to the UJC).
Solomon, who lived for eight years in Israel and attended Tel Aviv University, expressed "amazement" at the way families were impacted by the rockets -- 10,000 of which have rained down upon the region since 2001.
He spoke with people in Ashkelon, Sederot, Netivot and other towns that sustained direct hits from the strikes.
"If you lived within 10 kilometers of the Gaza border, you had 15 seconds from the time that the sirens were sounded to get into the bomb shelter," he said, adding that the short time span forced people to make impossible choices. "Imagine the dilemma of a mother with two young children strapped in car seats when the siren sounds -- which child does she choose to carry out to safety?"
Many of the parents Solomon spoke with said that their children had frequent nightmares in the wake of the missile attacks. He related that he was "touched" by the simple act of a young boy enjoying his time outdoors playing in a playground for the first time in recent months.
"I have a child of a similar age who never thinks twice about playing in the sandbox during recess at the Perelman day school," he noted.
Scheinmann, who, like Solomon is a member of the Federation Men's Cabinet and is also involved in Renaissance Group activities for young leadership, has traveled to Israel more than 20 times. He describes this most recent trip as "eye-opening and deeply moving."
He was distressed by a visit to a kindergarten in Sedot Negev, which, along with Netivot, constitutes Philadelphia's Partnership 2000 community. Here, teachers try to help students deal with the psychological trauma they have experienced through a network of social services.
Scheinmann said that he was "overwhelmed" by the community's gratitude for the outpouring of moral and financial support that it's received from the Philadelphia Jewish community during this time of crisis.
"My visit to this community was one of the highlights of the mission," he said.
Both men expressed excitement at the opportunity to present victims of the missile strikes with checks from the Jewish Agency's SOS Emergency Fund for Victims of Terror. These grants of up to 4,000 shekels assist with the purchase of building materials for physical repairs, and/or food and medical expenses, enabling these men and women to help rebuild their lives.
"People were hugging us, kissing us and crying -- it felt great to be part of a Jewish community who cares," said Solomon.
Rob Meyer, Federation's director of Leadership Development, accompanied Scheinmann and Solomon on the mission.
He remarked that he was "deeply impressed" by the level of their concern for Israel, as well as their determination to rearrange their business and personal commitments to participate in this "important demonstration of solidarity."
Said Meyer: "These two men exemplify the finest qualities of Jewish leaders -- individuals who embody our tradition's values of tzedakah and tikkun olam ('the repair of the world'). With emerging leaders like these, our Jewish community has a bright and promising future."
To learn more, call Rob Meyer at 215-832-0585.