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J Leaders Reunite in Israel: A Story of Serendipity and Connection

By Sarah Feldman, 2020-21 J Leaders Academy Fellow and President of J Leaders National Council

A J Leaders alumni and I planned to make the trek to the Holy Land together for a friend’s wedding. What we didn’t expect was the serendipity of meeting up with other J Leaders alumni in Israel, 7000 miles from home. Our plans included traveling around Israel to Caesarea, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and even a trek out to Petra, Jordan. The entire trip brought together J Leaders, Israel, our Jewish heritage, and good friends… all in a spontaneous way.

Starting My Adventure in Tel Aviv

I arrived in Tel Aviv ahead of the wedding party. By day, I explored the city of Tel Aviv, and by night I led Google Shopping meetings from the hotel. It just so happened that a recently graduated J Leaders Academy alumna, Leya, was also nearby in Tel Aviv. We quickly planned a visit to the Shuk HaCarmel (market), where we both negotiated Israeli ceramics and several take-home gifts. 

We both had such an incredible time. Leya graciously included me in her family gatherings that evening, taking me to dinner with her mother, aunts, and cousins. The warm J Leaders embrace didn’t end there, as Leya wonderfully included her grandmother in our next adventures who proved to be an incredible serendipitous tour guide in old and New Tel Aviv for Zoe and me, once Zoe arrived.

What I did not know, is that her safta (grandmother) had been in the region since the 1930s and was an incredible source of knowledge about the region, shifts, and historical areas. I learned so much from her personal stories.

Explorations Around Israel Beyond Tel Aviv

Before the wedding day, my friends and I explored other regions of Israel. One of our first stops was to the Golan Heights with a local guide. I got to see first hand the edge of Syria through Mt. Hermon, and visited a key relic of Eli Cohen’s story (now featured on Netflix), the now defunct Syrian Headquarters.

We then headed up to Caesaria for the wedding, Eilat for a weekend, and Petra (Jordan) for a day trip. I felt so lucky to have a fellow J Leaders alumnus to share the experience.

A Moving Experience in Jerusalem

After Eilat, fellow J Leaders alumna Leemore and I visited Jerusalem. I felt the yearning to visit Jerusalem because I had experienced a deep loss earlier this year. I was lucky that a J Leader could join me on this profoundly personal and spiritual visit to the Kotel (the Western Wall). 

After we went to the Kotel, we toured around new sectors of Jerusalem on a tour, including the Christian sector.

It was lovely to both lead and follow. The day in Jerusalem ended at Yad Vashem, a reminder of the ongoing battle against anti-Semitism, and the millions of lives lost in the Shoah (Holocaust).

Takeaway from my Adventures in Israel

I feel so lucky that I connected with my J Leaders network in the Jewish homeland. J Leaders created a hub that felt like home as I solo traveled. My experience speaks to the family feel and growth mentality that is developed in each Academy cohort — this bond brought us together so far away from where it was formed.

I want to express my best wishes to this year’s graduating Academy cohort as they take what they’ve learned to implement Tikkun Olam, and continue to strengthen their relationships as part of the growing J Leaders alumni community.