Why is this mission different from all other missions?…asks Nathan Shafir

August 26, 2016 by Nathan Shafir
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In June 2015, I started planning a United Israel Appeal Melbourne mission to Israel. I knew it would take a long time to put together.  I also knew that the people I was targeting, those in their 50s and 60s, like me, need to plan in advance.  We scheduled the mission for June 2016 and I began organising the intricate details of the trip.

The group at Independence Hall

The group at Independence Hall

So, what did we see and do when we were in Israel? Using a phrase we are familiar with from the Pesach Seder, why is this mission different from all other missions? Because in this mission the days were not only full of activity, but provided the participants access to sites and people they would not otherwise have been afforded.

The 2016 UIA Melbourne mission started in Tel Aviv, with a twist. Everyone could select their own accommodation. Some people like to stay near the beach in Tel Aviv, some prefer to be near Rothschild Boulevard, some like to take an apartment, while some people have their own apartment or stay with family. So, in line with keeping the customer happy, people self-selected and the bus picked everyone up from their accommodation.  Did it destroy the atmosphere? Not at all. We still had dinner together and undertook activities together, be they formal or informal. For example, on the night before the mission, majority of the group met at the new busy area of Sarona for dinner.  This freedom within the mission along with feeling part of a group was the perfect combination.

In terms of touring, we started with the Palmach Museum – a must-see museum, with an incredibly professional walk-through audio visual presentation outlining the story of Israel predominantly in the 1940’s. It set the tone for the rest of the mission. Inside the Palmach Museum there is an archive section where volunteers and past Palmach members update albums of photos and stories. Some 70 years on, there are not too many original Palmach members, but by accident we met one amazing man. He told us his story and only at the end did he realise that we were from Melbourne. He then told us that he has two sisters in Melbourne.  As we know it is a small world and so we discovered that half the group know his sisters’ children.  This connection made the Palmach Museum visit even more special.

We went to Jaffa and visited i24, the highly acclaimed news service, broadcasting in three languages. One cannot simply walk into a place like i24, only an organised tour can pull the necessary strings. We met the CEO and we spoke with newsreaders, researchers and journalists, it was quite simply…fascinating.

After i24, we walked 100 metres to Na Laga’at, a restaurant where vision-impaired people run a restaurant and the diners sit in total darkness while being served their meals.  This could have been a daunting experience, but guess what, the meal was great, the atmosphere was fantastic and it was wonderful to support this initiative. One participant even boasted that they normally eat whilst naked, but as we were in the dark, we thankfully could not tell if this was true or not.

Leonie and Luis Fleiszig at the Path to Peace Wall near Gaza

Leonie and Luis Fleiszig at the Path to Peace Wall near Gaza

We arranged visits to privately-owned medical and high-tech start-ups, meeting the founders, seeing first-hand how Israel is a leader in technology and innovation. By now you are getting the idea, UIA do their missions differently and the results are fantastic

But we also did what all UIA missions do, and will continue to do. We saw exactly where our donations go.  In Beer Sheva, we visited an absorption centre operated by JAFI (The Jewish Agency for Israel.) We met olim from Ukraine, Yemen and India – including doctors having to requalify and people who had been whisked away from places of high risk by humanitarian rescue.

We were privileged to have a private meeting with the flamboyant Mayor of Beer Sheva, Mr Ruvik Danilovich, who readily spoke about the success and growth of the region. Our group felt privileged to have had the opportunity to meet both the Mayor and those who have directly benefited from UIA work.

In Jerusalem, we had private briefings in the Knesset, firstly with MK Benny Begin and then MK Nachman Shai. These two men outlined political and economic issues facing Israel, discussing a wide range of topics, answering many questions from our group.

Food – a perquisite of every trip to Israel and definitely a focus of ours too.  We know that eating is part of any Jewish celebration. So, believe it or not, we also ate well.  Whether it was at a roadside stop for felafel at Hakosem in Tel Aviv, a last-minute decision to book a buffet at a hotel in Haifa or at the Tishbi Winery in Binyamina, perhaps best described as a touch of Tuscany in Israel.  All of the meals were high quality and enjoyed by all.  The time to eat also allowed people free time to enjoy both a meal but also the local surrounds and have time to shop, visit other sites or whatever else took their fancy.

The June 2016 Melbourne UIA mission was a great success and we have just begun planning next year’s June mission.  Through only word –of-mouth from this year’s participants our bus is already half full for next year.

Our transport was also a highlight, comfortable to provide a snooze when needed or with wi-fi on the bus allowing members of the group to share photos back home or in the group’s whatsapp which was constantly dinging away.  We were incredibly fortunate to have both a bus driver and particularly a tour guide who were as friendly as family and whose knowledge and understanding of Israel, its people and sites was second to none.

UIA runs various missions all year around, some geared at families, some aimed at seniors and some very general in nature. Anyone can visit Israel on their own, anyone can marvel at the beauty of Jaffa or Caesarea or Masada, anyone can lie on a deck chair on the beach in Tel Aviv or join a tour in Yad Vashem, but if you want to see Israel and experience Israel at a higher level, plan your next visit to include a UIA mission or UIA for a day. Contact UIA today on 1300 ISRAEL (1300 477 235).

About the author:

Nathan Shafir has been a UIA volunteer since 1972. He was Appeal Chairman 1990 – 1993 and has served as Appeal Vice President since 2013.

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