Scott Kaplan Reflects on his Recent “Journey Home to Israel”

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 4:14pm

Posted in: Tidewater Jewish Foundation

Last week I returned from my 7th trip to Israel, but this time was different. It was my first time traveling on a Tidewater Community Mission and it was special to travel with 37 people of varying ages and backgrounds.

I was fortunate to first visit Israel at the young age of 16 on a five-week trip with my Jewish summer camp, which first instilled the love of the land, the people and our Jewish homeland. I knew I wanted to go back to Israel to study for a year abroad while in college. So, I returned for a 2nd journey to spend my Junior year of college at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and met my future wife Erica, which solidified my foundation and love for this special place. After making a career change nearly 15 years ago to work as a Jewish communal professional, I have had the opportunity to participate in several different types of Israel trips through the Jewish Federation system both at the local and national level through my work in Western Massachusetts and the past 4 years here in Tidewater.

This time, I enjoyed experiencing the magic of Israel through the eyes of others, especially first-timers. It has been nearly 30 years since my first trip to Israel and the country has changed and grown in so many different ways from high-tech to new roads and transportation to new foods and a flourishing arts and culture scene. At the same time, the country continues to struggle with taking care of its most vulnerable populations (the sick, the elderly, children and families, those with disabilities, etc.). That is where we, the American Jewish community, living in the diaspora, are able to help our brothers and sisters in need. We, as Jews, who live comfortably in America, have the opportunity to make an impact for those who are part of our family.

Through our Federation overseas partners (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and World ORT), our Tidewater Jewish community funds various programs in Israel and around the world. A few of the sites we visited on this Mission included the following:

  • “Friends for Healthy Living (JDC Program)” which gives people with disabilities the opportunity to lead a healthier lifestyle and strengthen their other abilities through sports. These students learned to express themselves through the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga and they led our group in a live demonstration. It was incredible to see their faces light up when they were teaching us what they learned. 
  • “Photography with Joy (JDC Program)” brought us to meet with a 94-year-old holocaust survivor who learned to tell his story through the art of photography. He shared his amazing story of survival, which he had held inside for more than 60 years until he could express his memories through the lens of a camera. He shared part of his story of traveling by train to the concentration camps and what entailed as part of that journey. 
  • “Israel Tech Challenge (a JAFI Program)” allowed us to meet with a group of young people who are part of a program providing talented Jewish students and college grads from all over the world the opportunity to learn from Israel’s high-tech leaders and helping to maintain Israel’s standing a global leader in technology and innovation. These were just a few of the experiences we had to connect with the people, places and programs in Israel.

We also visited 3 of the 4 Israeli boarders, from the boarder with Egypt in the South by Gaza to the North with Lebanon and in the Golan Heights with Syria. We experienced both how strong and yet how fragile this diverse country with a rich history, people and landscape has to offer.

Each time I travel to Israel I see new things, have new experiences and appreciate different aspects of a complicated country that I feel connected to in so many different ways. I was moved by the generosity of this group of mission participants to make an impact today through the Federation Annual Campaign while also planning for tomorrow through investing in our collective Jewish community through the Tidewater Jewish Foundation. We may not live in Israel, but it is the Jewish homeland and we must continue to care for it and its people and never take it for granted.

This time, I saw how we as individuals and as a collective community have the ability to make an impact in our Jewish homeland. I look forward to future opportunities to travel to Israel with others to see their reactions and find their passion to connect and make an impact.

Photos from our trip can be found here.

Finally, the trip came full circle when, upon landing in Newark at 4:00 a.m. on July 5th, our 20th wedding anniversary, I ran to Rockefeller Center in time to wish my bride Happy Anniversary with Hoda Kotb from the Today Show!


Photos from our trip can be found here.

Scott Kaplan
President & CEO
Tidewater Jewish Foundation

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