Another 10 Days in Reverse: Bringing (more) Israelis to the U.S.

by Jason Langsner

In Judaism a bar or bat mitzvah is a coming of age ritual celebrated on ones 13th birthday. Traditionally parents will give a gift of a tallit to their child for the special occasion. The boy or girl will wrap themselves in it for the first time and will recite the Torah. They will be blessed by the Rabbi and congregation and will go to sleep that night as an adult.

Taglit-Birthright Israel is celebrating its own 13th anniversary this year. Birthright bar mitzvahs are being held around the world – bringing many of the 300,000 alumni from 59 different countries back together. In Washington, DC, the community was reunited in October 2012 through the Reverse Mifgash – a program offering ten days of social, educational, cultural and religious programming for Israeli and American alumni of DC Community Taglit-Birthright Israel Trips sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

In 2008, a participant of a community trip returned to her Washingtonian lifestyle transformed from the experiences she shared with the Israelis and Americans on her bus. They became more than friends. They became family. And families need reunions. She wasn’t satisfied with waking up knowing her new friends and family were close in heart and mind but distant in miles. Avital Ingber, Chief Development Officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, gave her a fundraising challenge – raise half of the necessary dollars to bring the Israelis to DC and Federation would pick up the tab for the other half. They did and four years later that tradition lives on in America’s capital.

Tal Kra-Oz (27), a student at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, called the 2012 Reverse Mifgash a “truly unique experience.” Joined by 11 other Israeli soldiers and students, Tal and his peers were welcomed to DC by over 50 volunteers of The Jewish Federation and hundreds of area young professionals who joined them at events over the 10 day visit – including DC’s own Birthright bar mitzvah at the DCJCC. Tal continued saying that he was, “incredibly grateful for the opportunity to get to know such a special community whose members made us feel completely at home.”

Over the ten day visit to America participants visited The White House, the U.S. Capitol, Arlington National Cemetery, the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, local synagogues, Federation partner agencies, Hillels, and more. They shared their experiences in Israel and what going on Birthright and meeting Jewish Americans meant to their own Jewish identity.

Matthew Friedson (28) volunteered as an organizer for this year’s Reverse Mifgash and co-chaired an event at The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive. “At the last Reverse Mifgash, I attended a program almost every night. I met friends that I will be close to forever and it inspired my involvement in the Jewish community. Taking an active role this year to bring 12 Israelis to DC was just as rich of an experience as that first event I went to last time.” Friedson was joined by over 100 young professionals at the museum, nearly 300 at the Birthright Bar Mitzvah, and over 100 in an inter-generational weekend leadership retreat at Capital Camps.

Continuing the grassroots momentum of 2008, the 50 volunteers who hosted the Reverse Mifgash fundraised over $20,000 this year. 24 of them additionally opened up their homes to give the Israelis a more authentic place to live during their time in America than if they were in a hotel. This was about family.

Sharona Tabib (22) of Giv’atayim, Israel, visited her grandparents who are now living in New York City and her cousin in Philadelphia after the program concluded. “My family comes back to Israel to visit, but visiting them in America was incredible. The Reverse Mifgash allowed me to reunite with my friends from Birthright and my family.”

No matter whether it was bringing a family together, volunteering at the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, discussing Jewish identity with school children and retirees, or reconnecting hundreds of Taglit-Birthright alumni – the Reverse Mifgash has become much more than a reverse-Birthright. It has become a symbol of one Jewish community that extends far beyond the geographical borders of the District and its suburbs and exurbs in Maryland and Virginia. It is a symbol of a community that goes to sleep at night blessed that tomorrow it will wake up with young leaders with a deep connection to Israel that are impassioned to take programs such as this beyond the next 10 days.

Jason Langsner (31) is a DC resident, a Taglit-Birthright Trip Leader, and recent host during The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s 2012 Reverse Mifgash. His eJewishPhilanthropy post on the 2011 Reverse Mifgash can be found here.