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Young Leaders In Solidarity

Young Leaders In Solidarity

Lisa Goldstein nearly backed out of a trip to Israel that she had suggested taking with her friends. Reports of terrorist attacks increased in recent months, and she had second thoughts.
"I was afraid; I was very afraid," said Goldstein, 30, an Upper East Side resident. "I almost didn’t go."
After she was appointed chair of that trip, the UJA-Federation Young Leadership Council’s Solidarity Mission that spent three days in Israel earlier this month, she decided to go, expecting a nerve-wracking, depressing time.
Instead Goldstein, who teaches third grade in Mamaroneck, said the mission, which included 15 professionals in their 30s, changed her attitude about Israel.
The group’s travels around Jerusalem, according to a schedule arranged by security experts, took place with no problems.
"I felt very safe and protected … as soon as I stepped off the plane," Goldstein said, sitting in a hotel lobby teeming with college-age students on birthright israel, a program that offers free trips to the Jewish state. "Besides seeing soldiers at every corner, it was encouraging to see people shopping, on the street, doing their shopping. I’m going to encourage people to come to Israel. Every single person on the trip will be telling people to come to Israel."
The Young Leadership Council’s first-such solidarity mission, part of a tourism trend during the current intifada that stresses brief visits offering Israel economic and moral support, came during a period when an upsurge in terrorism was expected because of the upcoming national elections and the expected U.S. war on Iraq. The visit was designed as an advance mission for a 10-day UJA-Federation singles mission to be held in July. (For information, call [212] 836-1548.)
An armed security expert accompanied the mission and an advance team screened all the sites it would visit. Participants were briefed by a series of Israeli political experts and they visited several institutions that are current and possible recipients of UJA-Federation funds.
The itinerary included the Israel Crisis Management Center, an afterschool educational enrichment program, a Magen David Adom first aid station and the ZAKA emergency first aid service. The group also ate lunch at the Sbarro’s pizzeria that was rebuilt after being destroyed in a fatal terrorist bombing in 2001.
"We didn’t go sightseeing," said Deborah Zuckerman, assistant director of the Young Leadership Council.
Three members of the mission are now unemployed, Zuckerman said. "They came because it’s that important to them." All the members had been to Israel before. "First-timers aren’t coming now," she said.
"It was a challenge" to recruit the 15 participants (the most from young, professional circles to come to Israel on a UJA-Federation mission in two years) Goldstein said.
The solidarity mission came to see and be seen by Israelis, for whom American tourists are a rare sight, she said.
"We were thanked for coming by every speaker, by every shopkeeper," she said. "It was embarrassing."
Goldstein’s personal highlight was a visit to the PACT (Parents and Children Together) program that prepares Ethiopian children for entering first grade. The youngsters serenaded the visitors. "They ran up and hugged us," Goldstein said.
PACT is affiliated with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, overseas arm of the American Jewish community.
"Seeing what the UJA-Federation has been able to provide here was amazing," Goldstein said. "It made us feel good to see the kids benefiting from what we do in New York."
The solidarity mission was Goldstein’s fourth visit to Israel. "I wish I could stay" longer, she said before the group’s closing dinner. She plans to return for the singles mission in next summer.
"I plan to come back every year," she said. "This was the most meaningful trip I had."

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