Federation Israel trip revamped offers 2 pathways to Jerusalem

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Fewer than expected reservations have led the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay to reroute its October Pathways trip to Israel.

Originally scheduled with five different tours, the trip now offers just two travel options — but it allows travelers more experiences.

Jamie Hyams, community services director at the federation's Center for Jewish Living and Learning, wouldn't speculate on whether cost or concerns about safety led to a lower than anticipated number of travelers. But she said, "I actually think it's a much better trip now. People can take advantage of so many things."

Federation leaders expected high numbers in celebration of the yearlong Jerusalem 3000 events. They'd hoped for 120 travelers, thus filling five buses with between 20 and 25 people and a specialized guide on each.

So far, 60 reservations have been secured. Nonetheless, it is the largest East Bay federation-sponsored trip to Israel to date.

Following the Israeli bus bombings earlier this year, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose combined their Israel trips because of low participation.

The East Bay federation's initial plan divided visitors by their interests.

They could choose from five tracks: archaeology and history, arts and culture, Israeli journalism and politics, modern Jewish thinkers, and Jerusalem and Israel for the first-time visitor.

Now, travelers can choose either an ancient or a modern lens through which to view Israel.

The historical path, led by Jehon Grist of Lehrhaus Judaica, will focus on archaeology and includes exploring Western Wall excavations and the tunnel to the retaining wall built by King Herod. The group will also join an archaeological dig.

Modern Israel will be led by former East Bay shaliach (Israel emissary) Amnon Gideon. He will guide tourists in meetings with CBS and CNN correspondents as well as political leaders.

In addition, "modern Israel" travelers can choose from two minitracks: sites for first-time visitors, including the Western Wall, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Knesset and Masada; or arts and culture, led by Sheila Braufman, curator of paintings and sculpture at the Judah L. Magnes Museum. The tour includes visits to artists' studios, a dress rehearsal of the Israeli Philharmonic and a behind-the-scenes look at the Museum of Italian Jewish Art and the Israel Museum.

Rabbis Eliezer Finkelman of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley and Mark Diamond of Congregation Beth Abraham in Oakland will join the buses, conduct Shabbat services and lead morning study sessions with Israeli educators.

Diamond said: "It's disappointing that we didn't get the numbers we'd hoped for, but the concept, and how it's been arranged, looks good. For those who have been before, and those who haven't, it will be a fresh perspective.

"Israel is constantly changing. It's a young country trying to weigh the concerns of a young nation — along with a religious element and the Israel-Arab conflict," Diamond said. "People have this mystical vision of Israel. They expect to get off the plane and people will be singing and dancing and kissing the ground.

"The Israel we learned about in Hebrew school isn't the Israel of today. It's high tech. It's suffering growing pains."

According to Hyams, participants are almost equally divided between the two paths. Diamond and Finkelman added that regardless of which path travelers take, there will be interaction and crossover between the two groups.

"Ancient issues cut right through to the modern period," Finkelman said, pointing to recurrent themes of maintaining an independent Jewish state and applying Torah to current life.

Diamond added, "The reality is you can't understand Israel without knowing both the old and the new."

Reservations are still being accepted. Cost is $2,950 per person double occupancy and includes round-trip airfare from San Francisco, five-star hotel accommodations, daily breakfast, six kosher lunches, six kosher dinners, ground transportation, tips, transfers and entry fees. Participants are asked to make a minimum $365 donation to the East Bay federation.

Additional sponsors include the East Bay Jewish Community Centers, Jewish Community Services of Oakland-Piedmont, Lehrhaus Judaica, Judah L. Magnes Museum, American Israel Public Affairs Committee and East Bay synagogues.

For information, call Jamie Hyams at (510) 839-2900.