Israel Programs – At a Crossroads

by Dan Krakow

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 involves a first visit to Israel in one’s teen years, followed by subsequent ever 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, culture and the present.

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 18-26. 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 on college campuses.

The long term programs model encapsulated in MASA favors post college visits, ages 21-26 which are subsidized by close to 50% whereas the longer and costlier gap year (post high school / pre-college) programs are subsidized by only about 5%.

The end result is that we are most encouraging shorter visits at an older age, sacrificing the benefits of a teen experience and the greater potential it offers for impacting one’s personal growth, home and school environment and college experience and return visits on ever more substantial programs.

I don’t doubt that most of us share the same goals, 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 ever more lengthy and in-depth Israel experiences.

Former director of Young Judaea Israel, Dan Krakow’s career spanned recruiting for and directing teenage, college and post college-age Israel programs as well as work in Aliyah and Klita. He currently serves as co-chair of the “Lapid” Coalition for high school-age programs in Israel.