(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
During Pessah, thousands of Diaspora Jews flocked to Israel to observe the holiday with relative ease and simply soak up the sun, but on Monday a contingent of some 80 British Jews travelled to the North in search of the "real" Israel with the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA).
Participants of all ages, hailing from Manchester, Newcastle and London, were taken on the Galil Experience Open Day - a guided tour of various UJIA-funded projects in the Galilee supported by British Jewry.
They made stops at Kishorit, a unique community dedicated to supporting Israelis with special needs; Kibbutz Eshbal, a commune that solely delivers educational programs to youth in need; and Acre, to take a closer look at a project called Ayalim, aimed at developing and renovating the old city.
At Kishorit, established 11 years ago, the group was introduced to the "home for life" that the facility provides its 147 members, some of whom suffer from Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome and mental health problems.
Two of the center's successes are a toy factory that recently produced items sold in Baby Gap and an organic goat farm touted as Israel's largest, which made a profit for the first time last year. Both initiatives are staffed by Kishorit members.
At Kibbutz Eshbal, which was set up by the youth movement Noar Ha'oved Ve'halomed in 1997, two kibbutzniks explained how the community's 60 members have been responsible for educating 4,000 youngsters - Jews, Arabs and youth at risk.
The kibbutz also runs a boarding school of 40 pupils, most of whom are Ethiopian immigrants and categorized as "high-risk."
Plans are in motion to build another house within the school to accommodate 20 more students.
After lunch, the group concluded its tour in Acre, which is home to a student village run by Ayalim. The director of the non-profit project, 26-year-old Michal Hezkelovich, told the group how her post-army aged team members have dedicated themselves to developing the area through refurbishment and community service.
Others joining the group included 18-year-old BBYO participant Charlie Robinson, from Northwood, London, whose program is funded by the UJIA, and 16-year-old Uval Ephrat, from Neveh Ziv, who will travel to England later this month to talk about her community on a UJIA-sponsored trip called Magic Moments.
Lesley and Don Nadel from Northwood, who have previously hosted Magic Moments teens in their home, explained that they signed up for the day trip to do something different on their Pessah holiday:
"We often come to Israel during Pessah but we don't get to go up North very often. We're thinking about moving to Israel, so it's good to get a picture of the whole country."
Lorraine and Yitz Jaffe, from Cheadle, Manchester, were particularly enthusiastic about joining the day as Lorraine attended the first UJIA trip to Israel in 1976.
"We've always loved touring and it was a very well-organized day. We especially enjoyed learning about the community in Kishorit as neither of us had heard of it before."
Jo Wagerman, from Hendon, London, who sits on the advisory committee of the UJIA, said the UJIA needed to increase awareness of its programs.
"We're pouring money and expertise to make the North a major area of Israel. The UJIA has some wonderful projects but no one knows about them. We could just write papers, but this was a chance for the British community to see what the UJIA does and added some tourist pleasure. It also encourages [donors] in hard times, to be more generous than we have been before."
Regional director of the UJIA in Israel, Nattie Shevel concluded that "this was a tremendous opportunity for participants to see the work of the UJIA in Israel and to showcase the impact of the partnership of government, local enterprise and NGOs for the benefit of young people."
"We carefully picked out a few projects that are emblematic of our approach to long-term sustainable growth in the Galilee," she said.