JCC MKE Israel Blog
This Milwaukee Delegation has some stories to share.
We tell stories to connect. Through our words, pictures, movies - on social media, in books, and sitting around the campfire. We try to articulate a moment in time, a place in the world, a memory or hope or dream or belief. We work to bring to life a piece of the past, to share with others some parts of ourselves, to build a bridge to where we’ve been and where we’re going.
In the twelve days and thousands of miles traveled by the Milwaukee delegation, there aren’t enough words to connect this experience to the community we serve. No Instagram post can capture Tel Aviv’s sunset, no blog post adequately shares the spirit of Shabbat that washes over Jerusalem, no string of words can wrap into a neat package the beauty, complexity, and enormity of Israel.
But, we keep trying. Not just in the stories we tell and the memories we share, but in the way this experience informs the Milwaukee team now returned home. Nineteen staff members traveled across the ocean and landed in Israel, and the responsibility was not just to visit, but to bring something back.
That can’t happen in just a few jetlagged hours.
If the team learned anything on their journey, it was that there is not one Israel. Throughout history, today, and tomorrow - there are countless Israels. The narratives move about, come together, separate. They are joyous and devastating, real and ideal, challenging and approachable. Often all at the same time.
So it won’t just be about the stories this delegation shares, though they are a multitude. It will be as much about what these staff members do as it will be about what they say. And the impact of this trip won’t be counted in days - but in months and years, in consistency and in depth.
There are 19 new Israels today, walking the Main Street of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Wisconsin. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“This experience has shaped me to be a better Jewish educator, for both the children and staff of Gan Ami.” Rachel Witliff, Gan Ami Early Childhood Education
“I’ve learned that we are more similar than we are different. We all want excellent education for our children, fun places to eat and shop, and peace in our family and in our country.” Heather Spencer, Gan Ami Early Childhood Education
“I wanted to come and get a real and authentic feeling for what this place is. Now, I can speak with authenticity and connect with our community members who are connected to this place. The trip just made me want more!” Elyse Cohn, Grants Manager
“I hope that by bringing Israel’s culture of innovation to my work at the Jewish Community Pantry I will be able to reduce food waste and increase volunteer engagement.” Heidi Gould, Jewish Community Food Pantry
“I am so thankful that this was the group we got to go with on this journey, and I know I built a new community that will stay with me moving forward.” Stephanie Wezelman, Steve & Shari Sadek Camp Interlaken JCC
“Complexity. I think that’s the most critical recurring word that resurfaced with incredible frequency daily on our trip. Issues are complex. Attitudes and passions are complex. The key to creating progress and community is communication.” Jody Hirsh, JCC Jewish Education Director
“Six words to describe my Israel: Innovative, Spry, Responsible, Artsy, Evolving, Life.” Carissa Mindt, JCC Recreation Program Director
“Every moment of our Israel trip reminded me that there is something bigger than the individual and we can always strive to do better for each other. “ Tommy Jostad, JCC Chief Financial Officer.
“Each day, each experience, as we met new people, heard new voices, experienced new places, I not only learned about and strengthened my relationship with Israel, but I also learned a lot about my colleagues and created strong bonds that will last long after this incredible journey.” Jule Lookatch, Marketing Manager
“This was not my first journey to Israel; I was lucky enough to experience some of the things we did again and some things for the first time. However, being able to experience everything we did over the last 12 days with this specific group has been amazing. Two weeks ago I left the JCC with work colleagues but I came back with family.” Lisa Kulakow, Gan Ami Early Childhood Education
“My parents taught me that to know where you are going, you have to know your history. This amazing trip to Israel allowed me to live history and look to the future professionally and personally.” Jesse Rosen, Chief Operating Officer
“There’s no replacement for walking the streets, breathing the air, and experiencing the life that happens in Israel. I can’t wait to get to work and bring some portion of that back for our community.” Chad Tessmer, Chief Marketing Officer
“Each time I have the chance to visit Israel, I see or learn something new. For me that’s what is so incredible about Israel. It is eclectic, energetic, vibrant, alive, filled with history, diversity, life and even some conflict. I was once again reminded of how special it is on this trip as I got to experience it with my JCC staff family. No trip to Israel is ever the same for me, and this one proved that while different, each one is impactful.” Rabbi Shari Shamah, Jewish Family Specialist
“One week ago we were saying the Shabbat blessings in a Jerusalem hotel lobby, this past Friday we said those blessings with our family of staff. 12 days of learning with moments that were challenging, moments that we laughed until we cried and an experience that I will never forget. I am grateful for the connections I made with our group, for the leadership skills that everyone showed, for the moments I had to simply be in Israel and for the responsibility to bring Israel home to Milwaukee.” Sarah Siegel, JCC Engagement Director
The other thing this team brought back? Gratitude.
We thank our partners throughout the world in helping making this trip happen - from the JCCA to our friends at Partnership 2Gether. We are thankful for the support from the JCC’s Merton and Dorothy Rotter Israel Endowment Fund for making this experience affordable and accessible for all participants. We thank our Board of Directors making - and keeping - Israel at the forefront of our work. We thank - over and over and over again - the team members who allowed us space to take this journey, covering long shifts and working countless hours in our absence.
Mostly, we thank this community, who bless us with the opportunity to serve, innovate, and share together. We’re looking forward to showing you what’s next.