July 18, 2003
Israel Experience Vital
Elan Ezrachi’s July 4 opinion article was a cogent reminder that for Diaspora Jewry, “it is more dangerous not to travel to Israel than it is to visit the Jewish state” (“Missing the Experience of a Lifetime”). He’s absolutely right. The growing indifference and alienation of the young can erode even Judaism.
That’s precisely why Birthright Israel makes it possible for young Jews, ages 18 to 26, from all over the world, to visit Israel for 10 days, meet their Israeli contemporaries and come to appreciate the miracle that is Israel.
In fact, unlike too many unfortunate organizations, Birthright Israel is very much alive and well. In addition to sending over 42,000 young Jews to Israel since 2000, we are enabling more than 8,000 to visit the country this summer alone.
We feel that even a “taste” of Israel is an unforgettable experience. And that taste, experienced by sufficient numbers of young Jews, can lead to a strong sense of belonging and commitment. It would be a transfusion of vigor and affection Israel needs now more than ever.
Apathy among Diaspora Jews may prove to be as big a threat to Israel’s existence as her geopolitical problems. Personal Israel experiences are the most powerful tools we have to combat that growing alienation. We strongly believe that young Jews visiting Israel for the first time to discover their cultural and religious roots is critical to the future of both the State of Israel and Am Yisrael.
Birthright Israel USA
New York, N.Y.
Yet another article, this time by Elan Ezrachi, bemoaning the fact that our youth are not connected to Israel and that the Jewish community must find ways to attract young people to visit. He suggests that certain types of marketing strategies can help. It is highly doubtful that creative marketing will entice our teens to visit Israel. But a free Israel teen experience would succeed in doing so.
A free trip to Israel for every Jewish teen in America should be a top priority of the American Jewish community. This is an opportune time for Jewish funders to make a tangible mark in the lives of young Jewish people. Together with local federations, funders have the power to influence the next generation of Jews and help them forge meaningful connections with our land and our people, which are currently so desperately lacking.
A love of Israel helps teens develop into proud, caring, committed Jews. It is time for the American Jewish community to invest the financial means to secure our future as a people and to help keep our children Jewish. A free trip to Israel for Jewish teens is achievable in every Jewish community.
Director, Jewish Continuity Committee
Jewish Federation of the North Shore
Set Up Camp Services
In a July 4 Ask Wendy column, a letter signed “Oneg or not” wondered whether the writer should “force” her children to attend Friday night Shabbat services at summer camp (“Reading the Fine Print of Parental Authority”). Apparently, at her children’s camp, such attendance is optional unless specified otherwise by parents in advance.
Summer camp can be one of the most powerful, effective ways to build positive, joyful Jewish commitment and identity in young people. If “Oneg or not” wants her children to attend Shabbat services, she might want to consider choosing one of the many summer camps which make Shabbat observance — however differently defined and celebrated — the festive highlight and centerpiece of the week, not an optional obligation which parents can choose to impose on their children. In the full-time, 24/7 atmosphere of camp, counselors and children forge a living Jewish community that sparkles with meaning in a way they never forget.
Rabbi Ramie Arian
Foundation for Jewish Camping
New York, N.Y.