By Michele Daino

The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset will embark on its second trip to Israel with its senior residents, Rabbi and support staff in November 2015 where they will have the opportunity to relive memories of younger days and make new memories as they visit some of the holiest sites in the world.

A crowdfunding site has been established online to help The Wilf Campus Foundation defray the costs of the 10-day excursion.

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Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner of the Wilf Campus explains, “Contributions in any amount can help toward uplifting another group of our residents as they experience the sacredness of the Holy Land.”

“For our seniors, it really becomes a once-in-a lifetime opportunity because they are in their twilight years and most of them didn’t ever think they would have the chance to make this life-changing journey for many reasons – affordability, age, and being limited because of their mobility,” adds Susan Harris, Wilf Campus chief executive officer.

Kinzbrunner and Harris recall the impact that the first trip, which was held in 2012, had on its seniors. Jacob Weinglass, for example, had left Poland and lived in Russia from age 39 to 46. He lived in Israel from 1957 to 1961, but had not returned since his trip with the Wilf senior residents.

Weinglass, who met his great-grandson for the first time during that trip, remarked, "Being able to add my family’s names to the list of Holocaust victims and survivors at Yad Vashem was very satisfying.”

He had been moved to tears during the visit to Yad Vashem when he saw photos of his old neighborhood in Poland which brought back a flood of memories he was excited to share with Kinzbrunner.

Holocaust survivor Inge Markowitz, who traveled with the seniors for the first time to Israel in 2012, had escaped Europe and fled to Cuba with her family. She said, “I loved the trip. It was fantastic – an experience I never thought I would have. The staff worked very hard. It’s a blessing that we could all go.” Inge was one of the last groups of children that were able to safely escape occupied Germany as a part of the Kinder Transport.

Ellen Kabot, another resident who was on the 2012 tour said that the trip continues to inspire her. She is taking art classes on campus and the Israel trip was the muse for some of her recent artwork.

Harris said that she is proud that Wilf is able to offer such an opportunity to its residents. We want to offer this trip over and over again. There will always be new residents who will want to make the trip with us.

That is why we decided to run this special time limited campaign.  All donations will help us to keep this trip funded for what we hope will be a very long time. We pay the total expenses for every resident which runs between $5000 to $6000 per person.  The campaign, which ends on June 30, 2015 has only a few weeks left.  Our goal this year is to raise $50,000.

Harris urged all those who want to be part of a true feel good opportunity to consider making a gift to the campaign.  She added that all donors can also “like” our Wilf Campus Facebook page and follow the trip every day of the 10-day journey.  We post photos, stories, and videos.  It is very heartwarming to watch the travelers as the wonders of Israel unfold before their eyes. It is also very heartwarming to know that you have helped to make dreams come true. 

Harris, as one of the campaign contributors said, “This is by far the most important gift I will ever make. It feels great she said, to know that I have helped to perpetuate this experience for seniors.

“To see all of the sights, such as touching the Wailing Wall, climbing to the top of Masada – these are the things you hear about your whole life,” she says. “For some, the ability to physically go on this trip is still a consideration, but it is modified to meet the residents’ needs and the staff is always there to tend to them.”

“During our last trip, our oldest resident Lee Cohen, of blessed memory,  who was 98 years young at the time, was able to go to the top of Masada. One of the scribes was so moved by her presence that he came out and offered to write a prayer in Hebrew for her. She asked simply for a prayer for everybody’s good health. She passed away recently at 100 years old. She was determined to go on the trip, and she did it,” recalls Harris. It was believed that Lee was perhaps one of the oldest people to ever climb to the top of Masada.

Kinzbrunner adds, “The opportunity to provide our residents with the chance to travel back to a land that is the center of much of the history of Western civilization, Western faiths, is a blessing, not only for them, but for us as well. It was an honor to escort them. Seeing Israel through their eyes gave a whole new meaning of the holy land to the staff who were with them on the trip.”

Remarking about the 2012 trip, he says, “People described feeling uplifted to have the opportunity to walk on land that their ancestors walked on. For some it was the first time, for others it was the trip they never thought they would be able to do again. For at least one person who hadn’t been in Israel since he left about 50 years before, this was the first time he had gone back.”

“The trip brought the residents a chance to deepen their faith by seeing, feeling, and touching the actual sites that they’ve been connected to by what they have been taught through the years,” says Kinzbrunner.

Harris adds that the itinerary will be modified slightly this time around so that attendees can rest a bit on the first day after the long flight from New Jersey. But, the excursion will be filled with the same fulfilling experiences as the 2012 trip.

“As Jews, we talk about the concept of helping people one at a time and helping in general and that is something as a Jewish population that we are called upon to do. Offering a contribution for this trip to Israel helps older adults to have their dreams realized,” concludes Harris. “By doing so, you are making the dream of a lifetime happen for somebody. There is no greater mitzvah or good deed than that, she added.”

To make a donation to the 2015 trip to Israel, visit http://israeltrip2015.causevox.com/ or call Rina Richard at (732) 873-5948.

The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living is comprised of Stein Assisted Living, Jaffa Gate Memory Care Neighborhood at Stein Assisted Living, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport, Wilf At Home, and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, contact us at (732) 568-1155, info@wilfcampus.org or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.