When Edith Keller’s children and grandchildren went to Israel two years ago, they urged her to come, too. Though she’d never been, she turned down their invitation.
“I have some trouble with my feet,” the 79-year-old from Morristown said, “and I didn’t want to hold them back.”
But when she heard that JCC MetroWest had decided to organize its first trip to Israel specially geared to seniors, she was the first to sign up. “I don’t know why, but the moment I heard about it, all of a sudden I got so excited,” she recalled.
JCC MetroWest is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The April 28-May 9 trip, with a “land price” of $3,955, more than justified her excitement. “I always used to hear people talk about how special it was to be in Israel and I didn’t know what they meant. Now I do,” Keller said. “It was amazing. I really felt at home, that I was among my own people. And the Israelis were so warm and friendly. Now I understand why they’re so proud of their country.”
She wasn’t the only first timer. Of the 33 participants, ranging in age from 65 to 90, 22 had never been before; another eight hadn’t been in at least 25 years.
“It was a ‘bucket list’ item for a lot of them,” said Sharon Gordon, director of the JCC’s Center for Adult Enrichment, who planned the whole trip in coordination with the JCC Association of North America.
She led it together with three other staffers, Older Adults Program director Sharon Rogovin, Margulies Center and travel director Gina Goldman, and Gina’s husband Danny. When it came to selecting participants, Gordon said, “Age wasn’t the issue; it was capability.” She made it clear that the pace would be a little slower, but also that participants should be able to walk at least half a mile unassisted, and climb a flight of stairs.
Those who signed up did much more. On a series of day trips, they covered the country from the Golan in the North to Ofakim, a partnership community of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, in the South. This was Gordon’s 10th trip to Israel, and she insisted it wasn’t all that different than jaunts with younger travelers. “We made sure everyone stayed hydrated, and that there were bathrooms in easy reach,” she said. “And there was only one change of hotels.”
On a few occasions they offered a less strenuous option, like going on a walking tour of Jerusalem with actors performing at stops along the way, versus a more harrowing tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall. On some days, if they chose to sleep in instead of going to an early morning service, or take an afternoon nap instead of going shopping, that was fine, too. Aside from a couple of brief doctor visits for minor ailments, they had no medical problems.
Asked what her favorite part was, Keller said, “Every day was another favorite.” She cried, along with the others, dancing at the Kotel with female soldiers, visiting Yad Vashem, and marking Yom Hazikaron in Ofakim. She said she also ate too much. “I put on two pounds. I had halva every morning with breakfast. But I’ve already lost the weight.”
Keller shared her hotel room with Florence Rosenberg, 89, of Parsippany. The two became close friends. Rosenberg also loved the whole experience, and gave much credit to the tour leaders. “They were above and beyond what you could possible expect,” she said. “They were devoted, they were understanding, they were patient.”
Mal Sumka of Montville, one of the seven men in the group, went with his wife Myra. “It was a wonderful, wonderful trip,” he said. “The most memorable time for me was at the Kotel, being able to pray directly to God.”
Gordon is more than willing to organize another trip, if the participants are as game as these seniors were. “They all really wanted to go, and they were determined to make the most of the experience,” she said.
To see an eight-minute video of the trip, go to youtu.be/q3XZlAgGOfM, or to see a two-minute one, go to youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fU2PMgsjTUs.
Next year’s trip, scheduled April 18-29, will again take place during Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. For more information, contact Sharon Gordon at 973-530-3480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.