It may seem like April 2023 is a long time away. But if you’re the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and you’re planning a trip to Israel with what you hope will be 250 to 300 of your fellow community members, planning for a trip 15 months from now seems all too soon.
“This has been in the works for even longer than now,” said Kara Rosenwald, the mission coordinator for the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.
The Experience Israel 2023 Mega Mission is likely to be the largest of the Global Experiences that MJF has organized. Eilat Harel said that the support of a trip of this magnitude starts at the top of the organization with CEO Jim Cohen, the board of directors, and the board president.
“That support happened because there is a want to not just talk about what the community supports (in Israel), but to show everyone what they support,” said Harel, the director of MJF’s Israel Center.
The hotels have been booked since last year – in part because other communities who are planning similar trips to Israel to celebrate the country’s 75th birthday had also started to book.
The timing of the trip also coincides with the Jewish Federation of North America’s annual General Assembly meeting. The GA meets in Israel every five years, and with the 75th birthday being a big one, many communities are trying to align trips around the GA meeting.
“A lot of [other Federations] are taking trips over the next 12 to 18 months, but some of them are smaller trips, maybe more niche,” said Tslil Shtulsaft, the MJF director of global experiences and affinities. “We really are one of a handful of Federations and communities that are doing something of this size, and we’re really excited about that.”
Building an itinerary
So how do you prepare for a trip this large? It starts with putting together an itinerary that will entice people.
“We wanted to make sure in working with our tour partner in Israel, Via Sabra, that they understood that we didn’t want to hit up the four main spots that every Birthright trip hits,” said Rosenwald. “And those are important, but not for this trip.”
The trip runs from April 16-23, 2023, with more information to come on extensions that would allow people to stay in Israel for the GA, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. The days are packed, but there are three elective days during the week where you can choose your own adventure, including culinary and cultural experiences, historical exploration, and sports adventures.
“If you’ve never been to Israel, you can go to Masada on one of the elective days,” Rosenwald said. “But the things that we’re doing, especially for the scale of our mega-events, which are anytime the whole community will be together, those things don’t happen when you’re traveling with a smaller group.”
For example, the second-night mega event will commemorate Yom HaShoah with a light picnic dinner in the Martyrs’ Forest, where 6 million trees were planted in 1952 by the Jewish National Fund as a memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.
Shtulsaft said that one way the Minneapolis trip differs from what other communities are planning is that it’s a community-wide endeavor.
“A lot of communities that I’ve spoken to, it is a staff-led trip,” he said. “That was not our approach at all and that wouldn’t work for our community.”
Rosenwald said she’s met with clergy from all denominations and organizations from Minneapolis to find out what’s important to them on a trip like this. And there are six co-chairs that the staff has been working with throughout the planning process: Leo and Lauren Zabezhinsky, Rita and Ron Kelner, Jed and Debbie Stillman.
“We meet with them sometimes every other week, we communicate with them weekly, for sure,” Shtulsaft said. “It’s a team of us that are getting together and working really hard to craft both the vision and implementation of this trip. It won’t be successful if those community members weren’t involved in the planning process.”
The cost for single participants with double-occupancy accommodations is $4,200, but with help from Federation-provided subsidies, participants can save $1,201 for a total cost of $2,999 if they register before May 31, 2022. More information about further subsidies for Jewish communal professionals and young adults, along with registration for the trip, can be found at the trip website.
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