Freestyle Mission to bring a new kind of Israel experience to older adults

By Stephanie Bolmer
HAKOL Editor

When Phil Michel and his wife, Ruth, came out of a film about Israel a few years ago, they were enthralled with the idea of visiting the country. They overheard other couples around them saying the same thing. They decided that they’d finally give in to his cousins who live there and go on a visit, despite the distance and perceived risks.
When at last they arrived, they were blown away.

“We had a wonderful time, and all the misconceptions we had growing up about Israel were wrong,” said Michel reflecting on his first trip.

Now, he is leading a brand-new kind of mission next year, geared at other older adults like him.

The concept is called “Freestyle Mission”--because everyone has different needs and desires, Michel is working with the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley as well as Jewish Family Service to begin planning over a year in advance to accommodate everyone who signs up for the trip. The travelers will have the opportunity to pick their own path for portions of the trip.

The idea has struck a chord with the Lehigh Valley Jewish community, as they have already had 16 people attend the first information session and even more stating their interest.

“It looks like it’s really going to take off. I’ve had some people say, ‘Just tell me when to get on the bus,’” he joked.

The goal is over the next year to meet several times and find out what people are interested in and what their abilities are. Each participant will be interviewed by Carol Wilson, MSW, LSW, program manager and community liaison for older adults at JFS. Participants will also be taking a few lessons to brush up on their Hebrew and working together to choose a charity to visit and contribute to while on the mission. One of the hopes is to forge community before, during and after the excursion.

“Instead of one of these situations where you sign up for a tour and meet everyone for the first time when you get to the plane, we’ll have the opportunity to meet people a year and half in advance. This will help us bond, which is nice for retired people because a lot of people don't really know a lot of people other than their immediate circle of friends,” explained Michel.

And, Michel also thinks it will be nice for everyone in the group be understanding of each other’s possible limitations.

“We’re all over 65. My wife and I, we’re very active, and while we think we’re in good shape, things happen. We have to recognize the fact that the group is pretty much all in the same situation, so we’re planning to provide support so that if something happens, we’ll be in a position to react,” said Michel.

An exciting itinerary with options that fit all participants’ needs is in the works for Spring 2021. 

The Freestyle Mission for Older Adults will cap its capacity at 20 participants, so if you are interested, please contact the Jewish Federation at 610-821-5500 or