Building Memories and Connections
in Israel

By Barbara and Michael Hettleman – with a little help from Stephen

This past December, our family traveled to Israel for a breathtaking, 8-day trip. It was everything we hoped it would be and more. Few people would imagine that the planning for it took almost a year, spearheaded by Maia Hoffman, a “gift” to us from The Associated. Her attention to detail and her willingness to really listen to what we wanted to make of the trip led to the creation of “Building Memories and Connections.”

The most important factor for us was to make this a kid-centered experience, something that our 10-year-old grandson and 12-year-old granddaughter would remember for the rest of their lives. The cornerstone of that experience was the guide that Maia found for us. Jules Kramer is a 28-year-old young man from Denver who made Aliyah nine years ago. His intellect, his creativity, his warmth and his unending enthusiasm and passion for all things Israel affected all of us in memorable ways. Just the mere mention of Jules got the kids moving every morning of our trip.

Maia explored her vast resources to put together meaningful experiences for us every day. We visited a cooking school and made Chanukah jelly-filled donuts to celebrate the eighth night of the holiday. We made menorahs at a local crafts shop. We made oil lamps and hand-pressed olive oil from olives we picked right from the trees. Maia found a local internet entrepreneur from Start-Up Nation who designed a travel app game for us to play. We dug and sifted through ancient soil and uncovered pottery from 3000 years ago. We rappelled off the face of a makhtesh (crater) and took a jeep ride in the crater. The list goes on and on and includes so many traditional sites.

Every moment of the trip went off without a hitch, another tribute to Maia’s wonderful planning and partnerships in Israel. In the end, it was the people who mattered most to us: Jules and Maia, of course. But also Eli, our driver (also a licensed tour guide!) who found a fan in our grandson, Ray, because Eli drove a luxurious Mercedes Benz passenger van. We met people from all over the world who have made their home in Israel and shared their love of the land with us. We are infected with their enthusiasm.

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