On a Mission to Get to Israel


Nowadays, there are myriad ways to get to Israel.

Whether it’s through travel groups, Birthright trips or even just on your own, there are plenty of opportunities to reach the Jewish state to sightsee, soak in Jewish history and eat falafel to your heart’s content.

But a scan through the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s website leads to you a page with information about the various mission trips they offer. There are trips for women, for young professionals, for men, for families, for interfaith leaders and clergy — and so on.

Elliot and Maxine Rosen during one of many trips to Israel. | Photo provided

Elliot Rosen went on a mission trip to Israel with the Jewish Federation in 1976 — one of the earliest of its kind — that changed his life.

There were about 200 people — five buses worth — from Philadelphia with him and his wife, Maxine, on that trip.

“If you’ve ever seen the faces of people going to Israel for the first time and see … the realization of the miracle of the country,” he recalled.

Since then, he’s averaged about two trips to Israel per year, whether for mission trips or business meetings or to visit friends he’s made along the way.

He made it his own mission to bring others there since that first trip, chairing several missions in the ’80s and ’90s, both nationally and locally.

He served two three-year terms as chairman of the missions committee for the Jewish Federation as well as the regional chair of missions on the national missions committee for what was then the United Jewish Appeal. (UJA merged with The Council of Jewish Federations and together later became what is now the Jewish Federations of North America).

The UJA’s Young Leadership Cabinet had gone on a mission trip in 1975 called Koach, and some Philadelphians had been on that trip who came back and wanted to start a trip from the Philadelphia area, Rosen said.

The trip even caught the attention of Yitzhak Rabin, who in an August 1975 JTA article said, “The Koach Mission is unique in its scope and those who take part will better understand what Israel is about …”

Rosen has been to Israel on several key occasions. He was there after the Lebanon War in 1982. He was in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations, including Israel’s 50th and 60th birthdays.

He remembered Yom Ha’atzmaut as the “most joyous and exhilarating” experiences, and even shared how he played basketball with the mayor of Netivot at 4 a.m. after the celebrations had somewhat subsided.

He was there for more somber occasions, too, such as Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron.

“It reaches your depths of emotion to understand the commitment we as a people have to our history, and to our future,” he said.

Elliot Rosen with Shaike Dranitzky

There are unique benefits to going on a mission trip, he said.

“Being on the mission gives you a chance to interact with other people and have the group dynamics that only that kind of experience brings,” said Rosen, who was also on the founding committee of Partnership2Gether (formerly Partnership 2000) with the Jewish Agency for Israel and is involved with the Jewish Federation’s partnership with the city of Netivot and the Sdot Negev region.

In addition to seeing where the dollars contributed go firsthand, a mission trip can open doors to places usually closed to the public, Rosen added.

For him, he has too many experiences to count that have stuck out to him from past trips. But, he emphasized, the relationships formed through the trips that can last a lifetime.

Through trips, he met people like Shaike Dranitzky, a close friend who was a UJA guide and created a travel agency and is the “most knowledgeable creator of itinerary” Rosen knows.

Another leader he knew and admired was the late Col. Ze’ev “Zonik” Shaham, who co-founded the Jaffa Institute, which helps disadvantaged children and their families.

He would encourage people to go on mission trips specifically because the opportunities they lend to not just see new places, but also meet new friends to share the experience with.

“The thing I enjoyed most as chairperson,” he reflected, “was being able to get the calls and letters — before there were emails, we didn’t communicate that way — but the calls and letters from participants telling me what I know happened to me: That the mission changed their life, that they would never read a newspaper the same way again or watch the news the same way again.

“When I got those kinds of calls, I knew that we succeeded because that’s what happens on a mission.”

mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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