One of the vast number of things COVID-19 interrupted was the much-anticipated pinnacle of the Myron I. Flagler Israel Learning Seminar (ILS) – a trip to Israel. That trip finally happened for JFCS Director of Program Services Jennifer Wirz and Family Services Counselor Supervisor Theresa Johnson, who traveled with members of Jewish Community Alliance and River Garden Hebrew Home.

The Myron I. Flagler ILS was founded by retired Executive Director the Jewish Community Alliance who deeply believed in the lessons that could be gleaned from a deeper connection with Israel. He created an endowment fund so the program could remain in perpetuity, allowing participants to participate in monthly learning sessions for a year and then travel to Israel at the end of the program. The session that initially launched in early 2020 touched on Jewish histories such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust, and included in-depth discussions on Jewish culture and people.

Due to COVID-19, these meetings became virtual in March 2020, with the trip portion being postponed six times. Finally in Sept. 2022, Jennifer and Theresa hopped on a flight with the other seminar participants and saw everything Israel had to offer. This included touring Jerusalem and visiting the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. They also explored the Hula Valley and Masada, an ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.

Jennifer said connecting teachings with real-life Israeli interactions brought the seminar full circle and she learned a lot about relationships during the trip.

She explained, “We work in child welfare and our job is helping families build relationships with each other and communicate with each other. I think the trip reiterated how important those things are everywhere in the world.”

Theresa said seeing all the different people praying at the Western Wall was a powerful sight and she enjoyed watching a woman and her fiancé take wedding photos.

“It was in that moment I realized they want the same thing we all want,” Theresa mused. “They just want peace. They just want safety for their family’s security. It dawned on me that even though we are worlds apart, we are still the same.”

Both Jennifer and Theresa took this incredible experience home with them to Jacksonville. As Myron I. Flagler intended, studying and understanding the significance of Jewish peoplehood now inspires their daily work. They are already implementing their new knowledge of relationships and acceptance at JFCS.

Details about the next The Myron I. Flagler ILS will emerge in the next few months for those that wish to apply.