Hartford Visits Israel

Trips for Teens

From the 1970s on, trips to Israel became a rite of passage for many Jewish teens from the Hartford area. Trips were organized by the Jewish Community Center as well as by Jewish youth groups like USY, NFTY, and BBYO.

As travel to Israel became more accessible, the Jewish Community Center organized “Let’s Go Israel” trips for teens, including this one from 1978.

Hartford Jewish Community Center, “Let’s Go Israel” teen trip, 1978.

Since the early 2000s, Birthright Israel has made an Israel experience available to an even larger part of the younger population. This UCONN Birthright group was visiting Jaffa in 2022.

University of Connecticut Birthright group in Jaffa, 2022.

Digging in Israel

Stuart Miller, professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Connecticut, recruited local volunteers to work on the archaeological dig at Tzippori, 1995. Miller is in the center of the front row; to his left is Eric Meyers, the Duke University professor who headed the dig. Arnie Dashefsky, former director of Judaic Studies at UCONN, is on his right. Ariel Plavin is in the middle of the second row, next to students from UCONN. They are standing in front of the recently excavated Roman Theater.

Archeological dig at Tzippori, 1995.

Biking in Israel

Hundreds of people from the Hartford area have participated in the Arava Ride in Israel, bicycling from Jerusalem to Eilat. The ride started in 2003 and benefits the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which aims to prepare future Arab, Jewish, and international environmental leaders to cooperatively solve the region’s environmental challenges, and until 2022 the U.S.-based Jewish environmental group Hazon.

Rabbi Richard Plavin (left) with fellow riders during the 2010 Israel Ride.

Visiting Israel was a relatively rare experience for American Jews in the country’s early decades. That changed over the years as air travel became more accessible and organized trips to Israel became a more popular way to explore Jewish identity. By the 2010s, 40 percent of American Jews had visited Israel, and 40 percent of Israeli Jews had visited the United States.

Honeymooning in the Holy Land

Moses and Rachel Neiditz, both leaders of Zionist youth groups in Hartford, spent part of their 1925 honeymoon in Palestine, where Moses had lived as a boy. In a glowing interview with the Hartford Times upon their return, he spoke of the “joyful, idealistic spirit” of the Jewish settlers they had met, and of the beauty and inspiration of Jerusalem. Both Moses and Rachel continued to be leaders in Zionist organizations in Hartford in the decades that followed.

This picture is from the scrapbook the couple kept of their honeymoon journey.

Meeting Golda Meir

Marcia Pregozen’s energetic fundraising for Zionist causes won her a trip to Israel in 1950. Along with other members of the Pioneer Women chapter she headed in Hartford, she visited her son Irving who had joined a kibbutz. Here she is pictured next to Golda Meir (then Golda Myerson), Minister of Labor. When Meir came to Hartford on a fundraising trip, she stayed at Pregozen’s house in the North End.

Marcia Pregozen with Golda Meir, 1950.

Meeting David Ben-Gurion

Rabbi Leon and Ruth Wind and Phil and Lil Bayer (later Marlow) from Manchester’s Beth Sholom synagogue meet with David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, in 1971. Ben-Gurion, who would die two years later, was by this time retired from the government and writing his memoirs at Kibbutz Sde-Boker in the Negev Desert.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, 1971.

On a Mission

The first mission trip designed for local community leaders was sponsored by the Jewish Federation in 1968 and was intended to study problems facing Israel, meet with leaders, and visit projects funded by UJA and the Jewish Agency. In the years since then, mission trips became an important way for local people to get a first-hand understanding of Israel’s challenges and accomplishments.

The Federation mission trip to Israel in early 2023 visited a park in the city of Afula dedicated to Hartford’s Bernie Waldman, who was a leader in Project Renewal nationally as well as in Hartford. Waldman’s daughter and granddaughter (Jaime Waldman Seltzer and Amanda Katzman) were part of the group, reflecting the connections across generations.

Hartford Jewish Federation mission trip to Israel, 2023. Bernie Park, Afula.