Travel to Israel is easy, cheap with SFJCCs Israel After Dark

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If you've never been to Israel — or if you have, but it's been too long since your last visit — you can soon take a three-hour tour of the Jewish state without ever having to leave the Bay Area.

On Saturday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m., the Israel Experience will present "Israel After Dark," recreating scenes from the state of Israel at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Offered as part of the Bureau of Jewish Education Bureau's 10-day Feast of Jewish Learning, "Israel After Dark" will attempt to provide the flavor of an actual visit to Israel, as well as a taste of everyday Israeli life. Upon entering the JCC, participants will get a "passport," which they can have stamped at various "Israeli" locations.

Those include a simulated absorption center — the mini-city where new immigrants live and where the government helps them find housing, jobs and language instruction.

Various Israeli landscapes will be recreated indoors, to be traversed in a "sea-to-sea hike" from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean, with actual desert sand brought in and poured on the floor of the JCC. There will also be Ethiopian and Russian Jewish "households," where people from those countries will describe life in their native lands.

"Hopefully the Russians will talk about how their immigration process has gone in Israel," said Heidi Winig, coordinator of the Israel Experience and an organizer of the event.

To simulate the collectivism of the kibbutz, the organizers are planning something communal, perhaps an art project in which each visitor can participate. A Bedouin tent and an Israeli army booth will be featured as well.

Also on the program will be a slide show depicting life in Israel and a recreation of the lively cafés of Ben Yehuda Street, a Jerusalem promenade. There will be an ersatz disco-dancing boat in "Tiberias," with Israeli dancing, live music performed by the funk band Force 7 and, said Winig, a "ton of Israeli food."

Raffle prizes will include a grand prize of round-trip airfare for one to Israel. Smaller prizes will include Ben and Jerry's T-shirts in Hebrew, and useful items for a trip to Israel.

Winig said the Israel Experience, a joint project of the bureau and the Jewish Community Federation, is an initiative intended to build a community of people interested in Israel. Funded by the Bronfman Foundation and the federation's endowment fund as well as by other local philanthropies, it offers information and financial help to young people traveling to Israel.

This event is being organized by Winig, the bureau's Yael Paley and a group of about 15 teenage "consultants" who have been to Israel and want to encourage other kids to visit. They do so by telling their stories informally on the phone and more formally in presentations to Sunday-school classes, youth-group meetings and Hebrew classes.

One of those consultants, Shawn Tabak, a junior at San Francisco's Lowell High School, spent six weeks last summer in Israel. "My older brother and sister went, and ever since I was little, I've known I would go to Israel, too," said Tabak. He particularly wanted to learn about the Israeli army, information he picked up during a week spent in an army training program.

Consultant Jennie Epstein, also of San Francisco, is a student at Lick-Wilmerding High School. She went to Israel last summer with a Reform group called Nifty Exodus, one of 12 groups of 40 youngsters. Among other activities, they helped build a playground on a kibbutz, climbed Masada and snorkeled in the Red Sea.

Epstein was actively involved in planning the "Israel After Dark" Bedouin tent, since during her visit to Israel she had the pleasure of spending the night in such a tent — soon after riding a camel.

Visiting the Bedouins "was a lot of fun," she recalled. "We got to eat their food and try on some of their outfits. They were eager to teach us about their culture."

Epstein, who hopes to become a doctor and plans to visit Israel again sometime during college, said she thought "Israel After Dark" would provide participants with "a taste of Israel, literally, by sampling the food, but figuratively also — you'll get a taste of what the country is like as well."