The current model of whirlwind Birthright trips and semester-long MASA programs is not in-depth enough to create real, lasting connections to Israel, says the former director of Young Judaea programs in Israel.
The world of Israel programs for Diaspora youth needs fixing.
Experiencing Israel on quality programs has an effective impact on a lifetime commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. But are we doing it right?
The most impactful model would involve a first visit to Israel in one’s teen years, followed by subsequent lengthier and more substantial Israel experiences.
The teenage visit is critical because of its timing in a youth’s personal, social, religious and communal development. This is when dating patterns and academic interests are formed. Only a visit as a teen can impact the immediate and extended family, the home, neighborhood and high school environment.
The teenage first trip is an introduction to Israel, an overview and an exposure to critical issues in our religion, history, society and culture.
Subsequent visits include volunteering and internships, academic study and Jewish learning, advocacy training and pursuing a myriad of other interests.
Ideally these would occur during summer vacations, winter breaks, university semesters and years abroad, post-college and early career.
The Jewish people and Israel’s substantial investment in Israel programs should be structured to best facilitate the above model by encouraging first a teen trip and later more substantial and lengthier visits.
This is, sadly, not the case.
In the current model, most first visits occur on a free 10-day Birthright trip between the ages of 18 and 26. The majority of those participants never experience a longer and more in-depth Israel program. For many, the trip comes too late to have a significant impact even on college campuses.
The long-term program model encapsulated in MASA favors post-college visits, ages 21-26, which are subsidized by close to 50 percent. In contrast, the longer and costlier gap year (post high school/pre-college) programs are subsidized by only about 5 percent.
The end result is that we are mostly encouraging shorter visits at an older age, sacrificing the benefits of a teen experience and the greater potential it offers for influencing one’s personal growth, home and school environment and college experience as well as return visits on ever more substantial programs.
Most of us involved in these efforts share the same goal: getting the greatest bang for our buck in investing in Israel, Zionism and Jewish peoplehood.
We need to find a way to revise the current models to encourage dramatic growth in participation in teenage Israel programs, followed by longer and more in-depth Israel experiences.
Dan Krakow is the former director of Young Judaea programs in Israel and is a co-chair of Lapid, the Coalition of High School Age Programs in Israel.