Judith Lisi, chief executive of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, used to dream of visiting Israel and Jerusalem.
In November, that dream will come true when Lisi joins Jewish community organizations from the bay area and beyond on a mission to experience Israel's thriving live arts scene. The trip is a project of the Tampa-Orlando-Pinellas Jewish Federation Alliance, which formed earlier this year to bring the neighboring communities along the Interstate 4 corridor together and utilize shared resources.
Members of the three communities, and people of all faiths, can join the journey to the Middle East. During the eight-day trip, the travelers will visit cities throughout northern and central Israel and experience opera, dance and cutting-edge concerts.
"It's an opportunity to learn about Israel from the perspective of artists, which is always unique," said Lisi, who will serve as an honorary co-chairwoman for excursion.
Within the faith, mission trips help increase cross-cultural awareness, organizers say.
"Missions connect people and donors in the community to Israel," said Lisa Robbins, director of outreach for the Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation. "Throughout each year, we raise money for Jewish causes and distribute a large portion of the proceeds to Israel. Missions show what work we're doing overseas."
This is the Tampa JCC's second mission with a specific theme. Last year 30 people, including Mayor Bob Buckhorn, visited Israel with a focus on economic development and technology. This fall, with three alliances involved, there are 60 spots open to fill.
Organizers chose an arts-themed intinerary to explore a more expressive side of Jewish culture.
"The arts teach us about ourselves and about others," Robbins said. "The goal of this mission is to showcase Israel through a different lens than people are accustomed to."
The Tampa-Orlando-Pinellas Jewish Federation Alliance supports the visual and performing arts locally and overseas. In Tampa, the JCC sponsors youth arts productions, the annual Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival, the Tampa Bay Jewish Book Festival, and the Israel Independence Day Community Festival, a celebration featuring local musicians, performers and visual artists.
In Pasco and Pinellas counties, concerts and other performances are an important part of the Jewish experience.
This fall, travelers will stay in luxury hotels, view professional theater performances and visit the cities of Israel. They will also witness the effects of the arts on the country's youth, organizers say.
"Through the arts, people have the ability to express themselves," said Mark Segel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties. "As we travel, we are going to be able to see how our involvement in the arts in these communities is changing lives in a positive way."
Along the way, travelers will visit a youth village in the Hadera-Eiron region. The village, which houses displaced Jewish Ethiopian teenagers, is one of several programs partially funded by the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties. The village boys choir will perform for visitors.
The trip also includes a visit to Ashdod, one of Tampa's sister cities. Last year, the JCC donated $50,000 to an arts-based therapy program for children harmed by conflict in the region. Robbins said travelers can expect a welcome in the form of song and dance.
"The itinerary for this trip is incredible," Robbins said. "There's going to be a different performance everywhere we go."
Lisi and her fellow honorary co-chairs, Zena Lansky (Pinellas/Pasco) and Ina Porth (Orlando), helped developed the travel itinerary. The women were selected based on their support of the arts. Lisi said she considers the opportunity a privilege, and is doing the best she can to promote the trip to people from all backgrounds.
"It's unbelievable what we're going to see," said Lisi, who is not Jewish. "I don't think it's an experience you can repeat. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Sarah Whitman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2439.