The Birthright trips to introduce Israel to young Jews who have never visited have become a fixture of the Zionist calendar. But Redbridge is about to pioneer a new take on the idea — a Birthright-style trip for senior citizens.
Twenty-seven people aged from 60 to 80 who have never set foot in Israel, or last visited decades ago, leave on Monday on an eight-day tour subsidised by the UK office of Habayta, the World Zionist Organisation’s aliyah promotion branch, and JNF UK.
“It’s a pilot trip, the first time it’s been done anywhere in the world,” said UK Habayta director Liron Reshef Rosiner. “It might be the beginning of a new concept for Jewish communities.”
Among the tour group is Nettie Keene, 79, a long-time volunteer at Sinclair House, the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre, who will be travelling with fellow volunteer Evelyn Cumbers.
“Four or five years ago we jokingly made a bucket list — all the things we want to do before we pop our clogs,” Mrs Keene explained. “We’ve gradually been working through it. One of the things on the list is that hopefully one day we’d go to Israel.”
She had not been previously because her late husband Leslie was not fit enough to tour.
“I’m so looking forward to see all the places I’ve heard and read about — the Western Wall, Yad Vashem. I can’t believe I’m actually going. This is absolutely amazing for me,” Mrs Keene said.
Newbury Park Synagogue members Ted Metzger, 76, a retired cabbie, and his wife Ros were last in Israel in the early 70s. “When I saw Tel Aviv, because of all the wars, it looked rather sad,” Mrs Metzger recalled.
“From what we read, times have changed and it’s a whole new world now,” Mr Metzger said. “It’s an up and coming country.
“It’s an exciting trip. We’ll be able to see so much more than we would have normally done.”
Mr Metzger has a family connection there, “a grandfather buried on the Mount of Olives. One of my cousins traced the grave which had been desecrated by the Jordanians. My granddaughter — who is out in Israel on gap year — tried to get access to it. But unfortunately it is a restricted area.”
Besides the obvious sights such as Masada — which the tour group will be ascending via cablecar, not up the mountain snake-path on foot — the itinerary includes a visit to British olim in Netanya and enjoying Shabbat hospitality with Israeli families in the Jerusalem suburb of Pisgat Ze’ev.
Although aliyah may be Habayta’s main goal, Ms Reshef Rosiner said its mission was also to strengthen ties between diaspora Jews and Israel.
She credits Orly Kenig, the Jewish Agency emissary to Sinclair House, for the seniors’ trip idea. “She dreamed of bringing people to Israel who had never been there before.”