Local woman’s Israel trip focuses on people-to-people connections

Back row (L-R): Bob and Peggy Feinman, Nancy Rubin, Nancy Vornholt; front row: Ginny Spencer, Rachel Rabin Yaacov, Marlyne Freedman (Courtesy Marlyne Freedman)

Marlyne Freedman, past senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, has traveled to Israel many times. A few friends asked her to assemble and lead a small, intimate group of first-timers to visit our homeland. From Oct. 14-28, Tucsonans Peggy and Bob Feinman, Ginny Spencer and Nancy Vornholt, and Nancy Rubin of San Francisco joined Marlyne on this adventure.

On Kibbutz Manara in the Upper Galilee, they were guests in the apartment of Rachel Rabin Yaakov, sister of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin Yaakov has been a promoter of kibbutz education and the integration of immigrant youth into Israeli society. A nonagenarian who was one of the founders of the kibbutz, she shared stories of what it was like to be a pioneer on the northern frontier, a barren mountainside a few yards from Lebanon in the Naftali Hills. Her parents, she said, didn’t just speak of ethics, morals, and the values of sacrifice and giving, but lived them. Her brother called her every week.

Our six travelers had coffee in the home studio-gallery of Arab master craftsman Mohammad Said Kalash, from Kfar Kara, also in the Upper Galilee. An artist and carpenter who has perfected the trade of Arabesque calligraphy, using the mediums of wood and glass, Kalash described his Islamic art and culture for the group.

For much of their Shabbat in Jerusalem, Rabbi Bill Berk, who made aliyah in 2006, hosted the group. Berk is past senior rabbi of Temple Chai in Phoenix, where Marlyne was executive director for 13 years before moving to Tucson. Peggy and Bob were congregants before also relocating to Tucson. The rabbi walked the group to Kabbalat Shabbat services at Kehilat Tzion in Baka and then to his home for dinner with his wife, Batya. On Saturday, they studied with him at their hotel. Later that evening, all were entertained by the “Night Spectacular” sound and light show at the Tower of David Museum, tracing 3,000 years of Jerusalem’s history.

From Jerusalem, the tourists visited the city of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Back in Jerusalem, they finished touring before flying to Eilat, walking across the Israeli-Jordanian border before being driven to Petra, then returning to Eilat before their flight to Tel Aviv and home.

Marlyne, who co-chairs JFSA’s overseas committee with Jeff Katz, remained in Israel for an impactful three-day extension to our Partnership2Gether region. She stayed with Nicole and David Rosenberg, South Africans who made aliyah in the ’80s and live on Moshav Nir Yisrael in Hof Ashkelon. Marlyne touted Hila Yogev-Keren, the P2G director for the Jewish Agency for Israel, for her relationship-building skills. Marlyne met with Mayor Eliyahu Zohar of the city of Kiryat Malachi and Yair Farjun, head of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. Having last visited there five years ago, she was amazed at the building taking place in Kiryat Malachi, attracting young families. She was introduced to SAHI, a Hebrew acronym for “special kindness squad,” a Kiryat Malachi program that has troubled youth help distribute food to needy families. She witnessed firsthand the P2G school twinning program and how excited the students are to participate. The schools included Harel in Kiryat Malachi, which twins with Tucson’s Temple Emanu-El, and Hofim and Shikma in Hof Ashkelon, which twin with Tucson Hebrew Academy. “These students are our future, building memories and bringing Israel alive. We are planting seeds for the future and making a difference,” says Marlyne. She also visited the Path to Peace mosaic border wall between Israel and Gaza at Moshav Netiv HaAsara.

Upon his return home, Bob sent Marlyne an email: “As I think you know, I speak three languages (English, Spanish, and German). Yet despite my gift for gab, I am not sure I can express in words how totally awestruck I am about Israel, what we did, what it means to me as a Jew, what we saw, and so much more. You did make this trip one of the most incredible journeys of my life.”

Time to share

Happy upcoming Chanukah and secular New Year. Keep me posted at the Post — 319-1112. L’shalom.