New program will help pay for a summer in Israel for teens

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RootOne is an ambitious new initiative that aims to help bring tens of thousands of Jewish teens from the United States to Israel on immersive summer trips.

Seeded by a $20-million gift from The Marcus Foundation and powered by The Jewish Education Project, RootOne provides major subsidies for trip participants ($3,000 for summer 2021), invests in elevating trip curricula, and works with its partners to create deeper pre- and post-trip engagement opportunities to help strengthen participants’ Jewish identities and connections to Israel before they begin college.

“We want young people stepping onto their college campuses with deep connections to Israel and strong Jewish identities,” said Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot. 

RootOne vouchers for $3,000 are available for Jewish teens who are entering 10th, 11th or 12th grade, or graduating high school in the summer of 2021. In addition, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island has some stipends and scholarships available.

Some programs have already met their voucher quotas. Among the programs that may still have vouchers are the Israel summer programs of NCSY/JSU, USY and Young Judaea, as well as some lesser-known programs, such as Chetz v’Keshet, offered by Israel’s boy/girl scouts; Big Idea, an English-speaking international Jewish summer camp that focuses on STEM, media arts and gaming; and Camp Kimama, an international camp located on the beach near Caesaria that offers a variety of water sports, including surfing and scuba diving, and photography.

David Bryfman, the CEO of the Jewish Education Project, which is administering RootOne, wrote a few years ago that, “as is typical of their age, many [teens] are dwelling in the trough of Jewish commitment.”

He continued, “Jewish ‘teenage-hood’ begins on a high note with two-thirds of American Jews having celebrated becoming bar or bat mitzvah. But by 12th grade, few teens have any formal connections to Jewish life, with the greatest drop-offs occurring immediately after stepping down from the bima on their bar or bat mitzvah day.”

Bryfman then cited studies showing the dramatic impact on Jewish participation and identity among those who participate in trips to Israel. 

 “And the effects are reciprocal,” he said. “Teens who go to Israel engage their parents and other family members in their decision and experiences. The trips generate numerous conversations in the home, deepening their impact and extending it to parents, siblings and beyond.

“Social experiences at this critical time in someone’s life are intensified with Israel as the backdrop. Having an existential conversation at an ancient Jewish site, playing on Tel Aviv’s beaches, crying together at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl and, yes, falling in love in a Bedouin tent are all memories that remain with teens throughout their lives.

“While not all teens who experience Israel will, or ought to, become Israel advocates on campus, all such participants will have begun to deal with Israeli politics and society in a safe and empowering environment well before their arrival on the turbulent campus.”

For more information on these programs, you may contact these groups directly or contact IsraelDesk@jewishallianceri.org.  For financial assistance from the Jewish Alliance, for Israel travel stipends or for needs-based scholarships, contact the Israel Desk.

LARRY KATZ (lkatz@jewishallianceri.org) is the director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.