The buses, which began their routes in Beersheva in the south and Afula in the north, offered hours of inspiring insights into Judaism topped off by an unforgettable tour of Jerusalem.
The field trip was part of a program launched six months ago by Rabbi Alex Arovski, head of Yad L'Achim's counter-assimilation department. Rabbi Artovski, Yad L'Achim's top expert on missionaries, created a program aimed at bolstering Jewish knowledge among sectors that are most vulnerable to cults, particularly Jews from the Former Soviet Union, who had no opportunity to learn about Judaism in their youth.
"The missionaries offer warmth, a sense of community and an attentive ear," says Rabbi Artovksi. "We're offering an alternative, a Jewish community that offers a warm, supportive environment that also helps them meet their needs – both physical and spiritual. There are a lot of young people who are looking for someone to listen to them. This program is meeting that need and seeing tremendous success."
In the course of the day-long field trip, the participants visited Jewish sites in Jerusalem, including a moving stop at the Kosel. For many of the parents in the group, it was their first visit to the holiest site in Judaism. They stood in awe at the ancient stones, tears flowing down their cheeks.
En route to the various sites, they participated in Torah classes, stopping at places with special meaning. Nearly all of the participants undertook to maintain contact with Yad L'Achim and to attend events in branches around the country as part of their commitment to strengthening their study of Torah.
In the days after the trip, Yad L'Achim was inundated with phone calls from excited participants expressing a desire to accept upon themselves greater observance of Shabbos. Some were even planning to take off Fridays in order to prepare properly for the holy day.
One teenager called Yad L'Achim and explained that he never had a bar mitzvah because, in his ignorance, he had stubbornly refused to participate in a ceremony that meant nothing to him. "Now I want to celebrate a bar mitzvah and to begin putting on Tefillin every day, as part of a Chosen People, Am Yisrael," the boys said with undisguised emotion.
Yad L'Achim chairman Harav Shalom Dov Lipschitz stressed that "this initiative is being run as part of a wide-ranging program of reaching out one-on-one to this large target audience."
As far as how to reach the immigrant sector in Israel, Rav Lipschitz said: "Only a beefed-up, consistent program operated from within the immigrant community will bring results and bring about a revolution among entire families."