The largest tour group to visit Israel this year, comprising over 770 participants from 80 communities all around the United States, finished an eight-day visit on Monday that was designed to be as uplifting as it was enjoyable. The group capped off their visit by parading through Hebron with a very special Torah scroll saved from the Nazis.
With tourism to Israel already breaking all-time records, this group helped boost the tourism industry even further, requiring an impressive 23 busses to operate from March 5-12. So many were interested in the trip that registration had to be closed six months ago with over 300 people on the waiting list. The group came on a trip organized by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), the adult educational arm of the Chabad Hasidic movement and the largest adult Jewish educational network in the world.
The group was composed of participants from many communities, each accompanied by their respective rabbis. One of the special aspects in the trip was the inclusion of in-depth daily study sessions with the rabbis that reflected on the spiritual significance of what they experienced during the trip. The group also met with every-day Israelis, studied about the religious connection to the land and heard from leading politicians and personalities including Yom Kippur War Hero Avigdor Kahalani, Nobel laureate Aaron Ciechanover and US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
“Meeting with real Israelis and seeing firsthand the dedication and innovation of the people has been very special,” said Mike Abel, an investor from South Lake Tahoe, California.
Mike had visited Israel with his wife Helen “half a dozen” times in the past, but he said this trip was different than the others.
“Traveling to Israel with our rabbi also brought a spiritual depth to the trip that we never experienced in the past,” he said.
Rabbi Yankie Denburg, a Chabad Rabbi in Coral Springs, Florida, joined the trip with his wife Chana and eighteen people from his community. He described the trip as “transformative” for his group.
“Experiencing the Holy Land brings home everything we’ve been studying and praying about,” said Denburg.
“Everyone has been deeply moved in their own way. One of the women in our group, Debbie Flaherty, was inspired to take the Jewish name Bracha which we did during the Torah reading on Shabbat in Jerusalem.”
The trip was also an opportunity for the participants to show their appreciation to the brave Israeli soldiers defending the Jewish homeland. On Wednesday, the group visited Yad La-Shiryon, Israel’s official memorial site for fallen soldiers from the armored corps in Latrun. While at the site, participants paid tribute to IDF heroes. Awards were given to two wounded veterans; Dr. Asael Lubotzky, who went on to becoming a practicing physician despite being permanently disabled as a result of injuries in the Second Lebanon War and Yarin Ashkenazi, who was wounded 4 times during his military service and fought each time to return to his unit.
On Monday, the final day of the trip, the group paraded through the streets of Hebron with a Torah scroll saved by a 14-year-old boy on Kristallnacht, a pogrom carried out against the Jews of Nazi Germany in November 1938. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned on Kristallnacht, but this particular scroll was rescued from a burning synagogue in Hamburg.
The Torah scroll was recently donated to the JLI, which restored the scroll and loaned it to communities around the world.
Rabbi Efraim Mintz, the founding director of JLI, was very pleased with the results of the trip.
“This trip is not just a tour, it’s an immersive learning experience to explore the soul of the country and to try to understand the deep connection we all have with the Holy Land,” Rabbi Mintz said.
“Our goal is to get to know the country but also the people who live here and the brave young people who protect our cherished homeland.”