My First Mission with the Federation

21 Nov
Jessi with an American lone soldier (left) and a British lone soldier (right)

Jessi with an American lone soldier (left) and a British lone soldier (right)

At the beginning of November I was lucky enough to staff my very first mission to Israel with The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.  Admittedly this is not my first time in Israel and not my first mission but this time was different.  This is part of my job responsibilities in a career path that isn’t a fad. It was important to me to be professional and still have fun.  I already have a strong connection to the state of Israel; my father is an archaeologist specializing in the Byzantine era; I studied on NFTY EIE in 2000 when the 2nd Intifada broke out, then came back for a semester abroad at University of Ben-Gurion in Beer Sheva and finally staffed 2 Birthright trips – one of which is where I met my husband. Needless to say, I LOVE Israel.  What could possibly be different this time?

The participants on the Mission, whom I now have the privilege of calling my friends, were “chetzi-chetzi”; some had been to Israel before and some had never. For this reason, it was important in building this itinerary to make this a trip of a lifetime because for some, it would be. We managed to find a beautiful balance of seeing the traditional historical/biblical/archaeological sites while seeing Israel today- meaning projects and organizations that sustain modern Israeli life. For instance, we visited the Lone Soldier center in Tel Aviv – a project in which our Federation donors fund – that gives a family environment to young “olim” or immigrants to Israel who joined the military with no family to go home to on the weekend or for holidays. Or like Yvel, the high-end jewelry company that has an apprenticeship program in its 2nd year for Ethiopian “olim” (immigrants to Israel) who need to learn a trade in order to live in a totally different kind of society than they’re used to – our Federation donors help fund that project.  Or Hand in Hand school which integrates children from a very young age at school (Christian, Muslim and Jewish children)- our Federation donors fund scholarships for students at that school.  Or you get to see things come full circle when your guide, an incredibly bright, brilliant, patriotic young woman is an “Olah” herself from the Former Soviet Union and makes a point to thank the bus because it was the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency who helped bring her and her family to Israel 23 years ago.

Being together with 16 other members of our Jewish community and seeing these incredible sites, shaking hands, hearing stories  and playing with young children has a way of bonding you together as a group like no other type of mission can. Your stories or inside jokes aren’t about taking pictures of people sleeping on the bus or how much falafel you can eat in one week. It gets just a little deeper, a little more to the point of tikkun olam, reparing the world. It gets you a little more in the gut.

I have been on missions before, as I mentioned, but none like our Leadership Mission that returned just a week ago.  I hope to staff many more missions with The Jewish Federation of Sarasota- Manatee and hope that they all have the same kind of meaning that this one had, not only for me but for those participating and the Israelis we meet along the way.

marty & georgia

Jessi Sheslow is the Development Coordinator at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.

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