Trip to Israel will take a Meet Up approach

Had it with cookie-cutter Israel tours? Two smart cookies, Jeff Saperstein and Ilene Serlin, think they have a better way.

The Mill Valley couple has come up with “Israel Meet Up,” which is scheduled for its initial run from May 12 to 19. Featuring visits to the Galilee, the Judaean Desert and various Jerusalem landmarks, the venture is not quite do-it-yourself Israel, but it’s close.

Ilene Serlin and Jeff Saperstein

Participants can choose either a walking track — which includes treks led by Saperstein along Montfort Castle in the north and Wadi Qelt in the south — or an itinerary led by Serlin that visits various trauma centers in Israel. Also, there will be speakers on Shabbat and a program on Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day.

What makes it a Meet Up experience is this: After making a $100 deposit, people book their own airfare and accommodations. They buy their own meals. And when it comes to activities in Israel, they may get on the bus for the planned day trips, each of which costs between $40 and $100, or go their own way.

Affordability and flexibility are the watchwords of Israel Meet Up, says Saperstein, a member of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.

“There’s no agenda,” Saperstein says. “This is not a mission. This is purely about engagement and enjoyment of the land of Israel. Many people say I don’t want to go to Israel because it’s so expensive, or so regimented. Here’s an opportunity to do it a different way.”

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Kol Shofar are co-presenting Israel Meet Up as an experiment. It is open to all, not just Kol Shofar members.

Saperstein, a marketing professional who belongs to Kol Shofar, has been to Israel many times, even leading several conventional trips. So he knows the lay of the land and why an experience like Israel Meet Up is enticing.

“It’s participatory and active,” Saperstein says. “Too many of our experiences are intellectual and conceptual. Experiencing Israel is what we need to do, and not just look at Israel as an intellectual exercise.”

Travelers can tour the 6th-century St. George Monastery in Wadi Qelt photo/wikimedia commons

Kol Shofar member Bonnie Weiss has signed up. A psychotherapist who has been to Israel twice before, she will be opting for the trauma center visits.

“I’ve got a bad knee so I’ll be limited in the walking I do,” Weiss says, “but Jeff and Ilene went out of their way to tailor this trip so that someone in my condition can enjoy it. They have a real sense of Israel and its history, so I have a feeling it’s going to be rich in content. I also like how they made it cost effective. You only pay for the excursions you do.”

In another cost-cutting move, Saperstein arranged for lodging at the Windows of Jerusalem apartments, not far from the Old City. Rooms will run as low as $110 per night.

Saperstein hopes the model for Israel Meet Up, if successful, will later be replicated elsewhere.

“Every synagogue could do this,” he says. It’s easier for volunteers or staff to plan, cuts costs and, perhaps best of all, people can “own their experience.”

Israel Meet Up registration ends May 1., [email protected] or (415) 388-1818.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.