WEST ORANGE, NJ - Golda Och Academy is pleased to partner with MetroWest ABLE and the Legow Family Israel Program Center to offer a Family Inclusion Trip to Israel that is open to the community. The 10-day trip, which is planned for December 22, 2014 – January 2, 2015, will make an Israel trip accessible to all family members.

Michelle Resnick, a learning specialist at Golda Och Academy’s Upper School, has been dreaming of this trip for years. Resnick has two children, Sarah and David. For her daughter Sarah, participating in community Israel programming was simple—she had her choice of Israel trips and she integrated easily. But for her son David who is on the autism spectrum, it was nearly impossible for Resnick to find a guided trip to Israel that would accommodate his needs.

“It was so painful for me to not be able to share my love of Israel with both of my children. Now my son can become a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall,” Resnick said.

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For Resnick, the Family Inclusion Trip to Israel has been years in the making and is a dream come true, thanks to GOA’s partnership with two important community agencies.  In collaboration with the Legow Family Israel Program Center of MetroWest and MetroWest ABLE, GOA has used its nationally recognized expertise in Israel education to bring forward this 10-day trip. The aim is to strengthen the community’s ties to Israel, while bridging the gap between Israel and a segment of the community that was previously marginalized.

While including all the highlights one would expect on a mission to Israel—Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, archeological digs, dinner on a kibbutz, Masada, the Dead Sea, and more—the itinerary takes into consideration the elements of typical trips that place barriers to special populations. The agencies considered the logistics and worked together to create an itinerary that would hit the important places, while accommodating special-needs family members. There will be ample opportunities for downtime and rest, alternative activities offered, and longer stays in fewer hotels.

Highpoints of the trip will be a B’nai Mitzvah ceremony at the Davidson Center near the Western Wall and a festive New Year’s Eve celebration with the Cooking Women of Okafim, members of our sister community in Israel. According to Rebecca Wanatick, Community Coordinator at MetroWest ABLE, inclusion is about providing opportunities for everyone to meaningfully participate.

“Individuals with special needs in Greater MetroWest have the opportunity to participate in synagogue life, early childhood programs, religious schools, camps and now will have the opportunity to participate in an Israel experience that is geared toward the unique needs of their families.  In a time when there is so much conversation about how Jews connect to their Judaism and the Jewish community, it is wonderful to know that here in Greater MetroWest, we are placing an emphasis on all members of the community, providing avenues through which they can access their Jewish heritage,” Wanatick said.

Amir Shacham, the Federation’s Executive Shaliach and Associate Executive Vice President for Israel & Overseas, agrees—according to Shacham, the mission of the Israel Center of Greater MetroWest is to bring Israel to the community and the community to Israel.

To help families offset the cost of the trip; participants with special needs who are between the ages of 14-21 may apply for the Passport to Israel grant, offered by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. This grant provides $750 towards the cost of an eligible Israel experience trip, and up to $250 in matching funds if the participant’s synagogue agrees to contribute as well.

 “We strongly believe that a meaningful Israel experience should be available and accessible to every member of our community. We are very proud to partner with GOA on this important project.” Shacham said.

To obtain a grant application, or to sign up to attend one of our information sessions scheduled for Sunday, March 30th or Monday, April 7th, or to obtain a grant application, please contact Justine Reuben at (973) 929-3054 or email her at: jreuben@jfedgmw.org.