Schusterman hands off ‘Reality’ Israel trips to itrek as it cuts program to focus on grant-making

itrek, which normally caters to graduate students, will also take responsibility for the program's vast alumni network

Two months after announcing that it was cutting its “Reality” trips to Israel for emerging leaders, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies has found a new home for the program in its longtime grantee itrek, eJewishPhilanthropy has learned exclusively.

itrek will officially take over the Reality program on July 1, though no trips are planned for this summer. The organization will, however, take responsibility for the program’s alumni network, which is made up of the more than 3,000 people who have gone on a Reality trip. To kick off the transition, itrek’s CEO, Gil Galanos, is slated to appear at a virtual gathering of Reality alumni on Thursday.

“We have long admired the REALITY program and are delighted to bring it to itrek,” Galanos said in a statement. “We believe now more than ever it is essential for leaders to experience Israel, engage in dialogue and grapple with complexity.” 

At least some of the Reality staff members currently employed by Schusterman will be offered positions at itrek. An itrek spokesperson declined to comment on how many staff members it would hire, citing employees’ privacy concerns.

To support itrek as it absorbs the Reality program, Schusterman Family Philanthropies is awarding the organization a multi-year grant. The foundation would not immediately comment on the size and exact duration of the grant, which will be in addition to Schusterman’s regular support for itrek.

“We are incredibly proud of the impact Reality has had and are thrilled that the program will continue under itrek,” Stacy Schusterman, chair of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, said in a statement. “itrek has a strong track record of connecting diverse leaders with Israel, and Reality will enable itrek to expand its reach into new sectors and communities. It is critically important to invest in meaningful Israel travel that enables people to experience Israel firsthand and learn about its history, diverse society and role in a complex region of the world.”

In March, Schusterman Family Philanthropies announced that it was refocusing its U.S. operations solely on grant-making, cutting loose its Reality program and an eponymous leadership fellowship. Schusterman also scaled back its ROI program, focusing it primarily on Israel. 

“We stepped back to say, ‘Where are we having the most unique impact? With our dollars, where can we make the most difference?’ And we made a decision that we can have the most unique, ‘value add’ as a grant-maker,” the organization’s co-president, Lisa Eisen, told eJP before announcing the decision.

At the time, Eisen told eJP that Schusterman was looking to find someone to absorb Reality, which it found in itrek. A Schusterman spokesperson said there is no such plan for the Schusterman Leadership Fellowship, which has ended and whose alumni network will have to be self-sufficient in order to continue.

Past and current participants of Schusterman’s programs expressed mixed feelings about the organization’s decision. Some are enthusiastic about what it portends for the foundation, while others worry that the changes will leave out some in the Jewish community, particularly those based outside of Israel and the United States, where the foundation does most of its work.

Until now, itrek has focused on offering trips to Israel for graduate students. Since it launched in 2011 — with support from Schusterman — more than 25,000 graduate students from schools across the United States, Canada and Europe have traveled to Israel with the organization.

Two years ago, itrek began expanding its offerings to young professionals as well. The itrek spokesperson said that this made it a “real natural next step in itrek’s growth” for it to take over the Reality program, which caters to emerging leaders.

“Reality and itrek share a belief in the power of immersive experiences in Israel that enable participants to go beyond the headlines and engage deeply with the historical, social and political realities facing Israel and the surrounding region, as well as with the people and communities shaping its future,” the organizations said in a joint statement.