Judy and Wayne Meyer live in La Grange, Ill. (about 13 miles west of Chicago) -- the nearest synagogue is 30 minutes away -- and had been talking about fulfilling a lifelong dream by going to Israel this October. The Meyers had never been out of the country (well, Toronto) and their daughter was excited that they would finally experience the ancientness and diversity of Israeli culture, as well as the comfort of being surrounded by Jews, as she had when she went on Taglit-Birthright Israel with a young professionals group from Los Angeles in 2007.
Then Meyer, who lives in Sherman Oaks and works for Princess Cruises, got engaged and, with a February wedding to be paid for, talk of the Israel trip dropped.
Until she heard about "Let My Parents Go."
Birthright sponsored a video contest for alumni of the program to convince Birthright to send their parents on the same 10-day trip that energized their kids.
Meyer submitted a video that spoofed a political press conference, as she stood in front of an American flag and took questions from reporters about why her parents should win the trip.
When the Meyers found out they had made it into the finals -- 18 videos from the 80 valid entries submitted were selected by Birthright staff -- they sent out an e-mail to everyone they knew asking for their votes on the Birthright Web site, where a public tally was to determine the winner.
Aside from everyone in La Grange, they got votes from their dry cleaner's family in Korea, friends of friends of friends in Hong Kong and Turkey, and soldiers in Israel who were on Jenny's Birthright bus. This month, the Meyers joined eight other winning families in Israel.
Others on the trip include the Feinman family of Clearwater, Fla. Daughter Rachel Blatt, who is entering American Jewish University in Los Angeles as a rabbinic student, and son, Mark Feinman, who is studying jazz in New York, submitted a video in which they conspire over an early morning (really early for Blatt, on Pacific time) phone call to send their parents to Israel as a 30th wedding anniversary gift.
The phone conversation is interspersed with clips of the parents talking about their opposite likes -- Renee Feinman is a biology teacher who loves people, hiking and eating in. Alan Feinman is a human resource manager who moonlights as a drummer in a klezmer band and likes quiet weekends, urban vacations and eating out. One thing they can agree on: They want to go to Israel.
"It's unbearably exciting," Renee Feinman said in a whole-family phone interview before the trip. "I saw how exciting and inspiring it was for my children, and how when they came they had been changed, and I'm looking forward to being that person."
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