How to get West Virginia Jews to Israel

How to get West Virginia Jews to Israel

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — It’s an interesting proposition, and takes a variety of ingredients to accomplish this endeavor.

First, you need people with vision and ability. For us it was Art (z’l) and Joan Weisberg of Huntington, and their daughter, Martha Weisberg Barvin, from Houston Texas. All are ardent supporters of Israel, and generous supporters of the Huntington Jewish community.

It had been years since the local Jewish community had organized a trip to Israel. Martha took the initiative, and made the fateful call last January to Marty Greenberg, Executive Director for Small communities for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). “What’s it cost to buy half a tour bus?”, Martha asked. After Marty picked himself up off the floor, the planning began.

Second, find someone locally to help coordinate the details, and liaise with the JFNA and Huntington community. As a board member of the Federated Jewish Charities of Huntington, I got the call. OK, but this trip’s leaving locally — not. We leaving from West Virginia … or, as it often turns out, from Huntington to Columbus Ohio, then to New York. Summer was too soon, and we didn’t want to wait until 2013. So we settled on Nov. 26-Dec. 6 as thhe tome datesfor the trip. Details were finalized, brochures were printed and distributed. With the details worked out quickly, we got moving promoting the trip at the end of February.

Third, getting people interested in going. Marty Greenberg, JFNA’s executive director of the Network of Independent Communities, came to visit us in Huntington at Congregation B’nai Sholom in February, and spoke to about 20. We had notices in the weekly Shabbat announcements, mailers to the community, and mentions in the monthly synagogue bulletin. With a generous subsidy from the Weisbergs, we had no problem getting the minimum for the trip. Marty also opened up the mission to all the Small Communities in the JFNA network, and we were joined by folks from Wilmington N.C., Huron, Ohio, Kalamazoo, Mich., and Cheyenne, Wyo. We had a full bus by June, and looked forward to November. Our new local rabbi, Jean Eglinton, incorporated learning about Israel in our local “Eat, Pray, Learn” Shabbat education series to prepare our participants.

Then came Operation Pillar of Defense. Less than two weeks before our departure, Israel’s fighting with Hamas forced us to face two decisions: First, can we go? Then, will we go? We could go with a ceasefire, Marty assured us. Our mission wouldn’t go near any areas where there were issues, but we would still have a trip worth taking.

At last, we ended up with 25 particpants, including two from Cheyenne, four from Wilmington and 18 from the Huntington community — plus Marty. Brave souls all, and enough to satisfy everyone involved.

From the Golan Heights to Tsfat, Mount Tabor to Caesaria, Jerusalem and Masada, we covered a lot of archeological, biblical and historical territory. We also go to Dimona and Lod to visit programs funded by the Small Communities to see what JFNA does with our contributions-we were impressed. Finally to Tel Aviv and Independence Hall, where Israeli statehood was delcared; it was a fitting place to end our mission. We had dinner together, got on our flight and back home we came.

So, how to get West Virginia Jews to Israel? Tap into a desire, call and recruit the right people, offer a great deal and plan an awesome itinerary. The rest, even a week of tumult, we leave to a power higher than us.

(Linda Pickholtz Klein, a Pittsburgh native and Huntington resident, was the mission chair for the trip.)