Israel Visit Proves Enriching

(Courtesy of Jennie Kerson Pritzker and Toba Kerson)

By Jennie Kerson Pritzker and Toba Kerson

Our family has returned from a magical week on Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s 2019 Intergenerational Hanukkah Mission to Israel. The five of us (grandparents, parents, and 10 year-old Leo) enjoyed a range of thrilling experiences.

After an overnight flight, we arrived at dawn and were greeted by our guide and two representatives from Alma-Israel. Wasting no time, we immediately started our tour of Jerusalem.

Our morning began with a tour of Machane Yehuda, the beloved Jerusalem market, where everyone was preparing for Shabbat. People from many religious and ethnic groups come together here to buy and sell delicious fruits, fragrant spices, breads, sweets and drinks. Bolstered by assorted treats, we set off for The Israel Museum, where we viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, in preparation for our visit to the Western Wall.

After we checked into our hotel, we set off for the Wall at sunset to mingle with crowds singing and dancing to welcome the Sabbath. We were amazed to see what we had done in only one day. This was emblematic of a profound and engaging week.

Leo had two favorite moments during the week. The first was a visit to Beit Guvrin, an ongoing excavation of caves that were used as burial crypts, storehouses and hideouts during the Bar Kochba Revolt. With archeological experts, Leo and his dad went underground to dig and hauled their findings up to ground level, where the family sifted the shards. Afterward, Leo handed our expert a large section of a plate that he had found. Now Leo thinks that he might like to be an archeologist or spend a high school summer on a dig in Israel. 

Leo also loved the visit to Kfar Kedem, where hosts recreate what life was like in ancient Israel. We dressed in copies of ancient garb, milked a goat, made cheese and bread, and took a donkey ride. At the end of the visit, Leo crafted a note, which was affixed to the leg of a carrier pigeon. We released the pigeon in the shadow of the grand aqueduct at Caesarea, miles from the farm.

A week later, we received an email with a photo of Leo’s note. The pigeon had come home to roost. This experience was representative of the week, combining the ancient with the modern, and allowing a 21st-century family to access and try to understand ancient times.

Of the many wonderful moments of the trip, a few were incredibly special. We all loved the jeep ride in the Golan Heights when we were driven up to Mount Bental. Our guide, a 73-year-old kibbutznik was undeterred as he drove through pouring rain to see a key battle site from the Six-Day War.

But the most extraordinary part of the week took us off the beaten path, thanks to special arrangements made by Tali Lidar, who runs Jewish Federation’s office in Israel. Tali brought us to Netivot, Philadelphia’s sister city in Israel, where Susan, a North African immigrant cooked lunch for us in her home. Susan earns money through her gracious and delicious catering.

Next, we visited two military encampments guarding the Gaza border. One is part of the Iron Dome, the system designed to protect towns like Netivot from missile shells fired in Gaza. Gates to the encampments were opened for Leo to give sufganiyot to the soldiers. After all, what is Chanukah without sufganiyot?

The experience was extraordinarily moving for all of us, no matter if we had visited Israel several times or never before. We all came home wanting to do more. Jennie has joined Toba in becoming a member of Women of Vision, and Leo has decided to give all of his 2019 tzedakah to Jewish Federation. We all look forward to returning to Israel.


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