A Life Changing Trip, Shabbat Shalom

Dear Friends,

After an unforgettable CommUNITY Trip to Israel–truly the trip of a lifetime–a group of us headed to the airport this morning, with alerts pinging on our phones and watches signaling more rocket attacks throughout the South and other areas of Israel. Last night, all 220 of us gathered at Anu, the outstanding Museum of Jewish Peoplehood, where we had the opportunity to hear from the Mayor and CEO of Sha’ar HaNegev (our partner region) from their situation room as they work around the clock to keep the community safe. We were so lucky to be able to spend an entire day with the Sha’ar HaNegev community earlier this week celebrating 25 years of partnership, leaving only hours before the rockets started. And while we can never understand what it is like to live in a place so full of extraordinary beauty and imminent threat, we understand and empathize more now. We were there. We connected with those families. I, for one, am thinking of the beaming faces of the dozens of third graders who greeted us with song and high fives upon our arrival; many of those children had to leave their homes this week to ensure their physical and psychological safety.

Being in Israel is very different from reading about Israel. While rockets were falling in the South, we spent a beautiful day diving into our passions in Tel Aviv and exploring the city. While 2,200 of our friends in Sha’ar HaNegev were evacuating to safer locations, we had a fun and fascinating day in the North, exploring geopolitics and security, eating our way through Haifa, tasting wine and olive oil, and visiting with disadvantaged youth and new “olim,” immigrants from Ethiopia, Russia and many other countries. We learned from experts about Israeli politics today and the surprisingly powerful forces working to sustain Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state. Many in our group attended the protest marches, energized by the diversity and passion of the crowd. The activists we met and the programs we visited showed us the many ways Israelis focus on creating opportunity, vitality, and safety for all the country’s citizens.

Our trip was filled with so many emotions and poignant moments. We had moments of somber reflection at Yad VaShem, and unbridled joy as we all (and I mean all!) danced together at Rosh HaNikra. We made new friends and connected with old friends. Nearly 70 first-timers to Israel and nearly 70 Jewish communal professionals from all our major agencies formed ties to Israel and to one another that will benefit our community for years.

It will take time to process this overwhelming experience. Right now a group of us are on our way to the United Arab Emirates to explore first-hand the culture in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to meet with representatives of the brand new and growing Jewish community there, and to understand the impact of the Abraham accords. I am incredibly gratified by what our Federation team, along with our lay leaders and wonderful trip Co-Chairs, Tamar Caspi, Theresa Dupuis and Gary Kornfeld and Caryn and Alan Viterbi, accomplished. In addition to the community we built, we raised significant funds to expand our work connecting Israel to San Diego, and to strengthen the programs of our partners, JDC, JAFI, and Sha’ar HaNegev. The experience on this trip motivated 19 households to become major donors, 11 women to become new lions of Judah, and 92 people to make their first ever donation to Federation. 100 percent of the people on the trip have made a commitment to supporting our work, and for that I could not be more grateful.

This may have been our first CommUNITY Trip in many years, but we will not wait so long again. We want to travel with you to Jewish communities around the world. Nothing does more to tie us together. Be on the lookout for more Federation trips in the near future. My heart is full, and my family feels bigger today than it did ten days ago.

Shabbat Shalom,


Heidi Gantwerk
President & Chief Executive Officer


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