Congregation B'nai Israel

2710 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604 | (203) 336-1858 | |

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Breathing the Air of the Promised Land

by Ira Wise, October 2017/Tishrei-Cheshvan 5778

If you have a teen or pre-teen child or grandchild, I want to plant a seed in your mind. That seed is Israel.

As most of you know, each year we have two Israeli 18 year-olds who defer their military service and come live in our community. When I sit down with the new Shinshinim (A nickname that comes from Shanat Sherut – a year of service – which is what they are doing), I explain that if I could, I would run a pipe from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv all the way to Bridgeport. I would connect to the ventilation system in our temple and pump the air of Israel into the B’nai Israel, so we could all breath it in – metaphorically. I explain that their job is to make that happen through the teaching and activities they bring to us.

They do an amazing job. And you should invite Yuval and/or Ofek into your home for dinner one night, or to hang out on the weekend. Or to live with you for three or four months.

The thing is, they cannot really bring the air of Israel. Nothing is as good as going their and breathing it, experiencing the sights, sounds, tastes and the people living a normal life in the Jewish state. So I want you to begin thinking and talking now with your child or grandchild about going there for a visit. I escort one of our NFTY summer trips on the first leg of their Israel trip as they begin in eastern Europe. They have an amazing time. I will be happy to connect your teen with one of the many who have gone to Israel with NFTY.

We also have Heller High School. It is an actual semester of high school in the Judean hills. Both of our sons attended during their sophomore years. Max Fink, the seventh (by my count) B’nai Israel participant returned from his semester in June. Let me share his words:

“For the past four months I have been living a world away… the students of NFTY Heller High are housed in a guest house that is part of Kibbutz Tzuba… Many members have jobs on the community that makes everything seem so close. A woman I sit near during lunch was sitting near me during a memorial service, and has sold me pita and hummus in the market. The same person who has served me chicken at dinner was in front of me in the line of the ice cream shop, just yesterday. This huge sense of community is only possible in Israel, on the kibbutzim.”

Another participant, from Chicago, gives five reasons why her experience has changed her for the better: She 1.) has a stronger Jewish identity; 2.) met some of her closest friends; 3.) has become more self-directed; 4.)  has a connection to Israel and 5.) Is prepared for the future. (You can read her explanation of these points at

Students at Heller High take the same academic classes they would have taken here at Warde, Trumbull, Ludlowe, Barlow, etc. They send the syllabi from their local teachers and Heller makes sure the same learning goals are met. And then they add Jewish History and Hebrew Ulpan. And when the history class has the opportunity to visit the site of something they are learning, they get on the bus! Most students earn more academic credits than they would have staying in the US.

So visit and click on the “Trips” button to learn more about Heller High and NFTY in Israel programs. Call me or one of our rabbis to talk about it. And start planning and saving. There are generous scholarships, but it is a sizeable expense. And it is worth every penny. And then some.