Rabbi Mendy Carlebach hasn't made the pilgrimage to Israel in nearly 15 years. But as he stood silently praying at the Western Wall, the man standing next him also silent in prayer left the Rabbi inspired.
Carlebach, of Chabad of South Brunswick, stood next to Gov. Chris Christie, as he accompanied the governor on his whirlwind tour of Israel last week.
"Praying at the Western Wall with my governor was certainly the most memorable part of the trip," Carlebach said. "I haven't been back to Israel in many years, so to get this opportunity to go back was an invitation I couldn't turn down. There's a spiritual aspect to being at the wall, but being there with my governor made me proud to be a citizen of this state and proud to be a Jew in New Jersey. Standing at the wall praying next to him was a very proud moment."
Carlebach was among a group of about 30 religious and business leaders, family and staff members from New Jersey to accompany the governor on the trip.
Carlebach, who was appointed to the New Jersey Israel Commission by Christie in 2010, marveled at the fact that even walking the streets of Israel, Gov. Christie still received the rock star treatment.
"Wherever (Christie) went I just couldn't get over the fact that everyone recognized him," he said. "People are making the pilgrimage to Israel, and they see the governor and wanted to walk over, shake his hand and take a picture. It was a very positive response."
With speculation rampant that the trip was designed to position Christie for a possible run at the vice presidency alongside GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, Carlebach said the tour's main goal was for economic and geopolitical purposes.
"We wanted to enhance the ties between New Jersey and Israel and strengthen trade between the two," he noted. "The governor also wanted to go at a time he could bring his children, so there was a personal aspect, in addition to a business aspect."
Carlebach's ultimate hopes for the "Jersey to Jerusalem" tour was for Christie's growing influence to help bolster support for Israel and the issues facing the country.
"From this trip I hope and believe that when the governor gives his voice to something people take notice," Carlebach said. "By coming to Israel, when people in this world are questioning the legitimacy of Israel, when other countries are beating up on Israel, even when it's the only Democracy in that region, for him to bring his family and affirm is support for Israel is an important thing. The fact that he took his family with him is a statement that goes beyond words. I was truly honored to be a part of it."