Among other organizations, Young Judea, the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, the North American Federation of Temple Youth and United Synagogue Youth offer summer sojourns to the Jewish state.
But while these programs represent a variety of different Jewish interests and organizations (Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America; B'nai B'rith International; the Union for Reform Judaism; and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, respectively), the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation had yet to produce an equivalent program.
Until recently, that is.
This summer, No'ar Hadash, the Reconstructionist youth movement, ran its first-ever teen trip to Israel.
The roughly four-week tour, which left June 24 and returned July 22, drew 35 participants, including teens from New York, Florida, California and one from the Philadelphia region.
Isaac Saposnik, director of No'ar Hadash, explained that the idea for an Israel trip grew out of a need to bolster informal youth programming. The Reconstructionist branch currently runs a camp in Pennsylvania, hosts regional teen conferences and sponsors youth-movement activities.
"We needed to find more ways to engage youth outside of the classroom," said Saposnik. "And we knew that informal Jewish education -- camp and youth programs -- has been so influential to youth across the community."
The inaugural trip began with a short stay at Camp JRF in the Poconos, where participants got to know each other and orient themselves before traveling.
Then, participants flew to Jerusalem, where they spent a few days immersed in Israel's biblical era. Among other activities, the group toured Mount Scopus, visited ancient underground tunnels and participated in an archaeological dig.
After that, the group focused on the rabbinic period (by visiting Tzipori, where Jewish oral law was codified), and delved into the medieval world (by learning about Jewish mysticism in hilly Tzfat and the crusades in seaside Akko).
Finally, participants explored modern Israel by visiting sites including an Israel Defense Force base, a kibbutz, Tel Aviv and the Golan Heights. During this portion of the trip, themes like coexistence, peace and security, Jewish values and the founding of the State of Israel were stressed.
The experience ended with a return visit to Camp JRF, as well as opportunities for participants to "share their excitement for Israel" with other campers.
Saposnik explained that the trip was laid out in chronological order so that participants could "move through the civilizations" as they traveled. This sequence is a reflection of the Reconstructionist movement's view of Judaism as an evolving religion.
"There were days I know it drove the bus driver crazy -- driving here two hours, there two hours," chuckled Saposnik. "But we felt it was important to see Israel this way."
Maple Glen resident Robin Alpert, whose 16-year-old daughter Amanda attended the trip, agreed. "They just did it in the right order," said Alpert, 46, a member of Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregation in Fort Washington. "They went to all the spots I went to as a kid."
Alpert said she was extremely happy with the trip, which she praised for its small size and for delivering timely information about the group's whereabouts.
For her part, Amanda, an incoming junior at Upper Dublin High School, said that she had "a great time."
"We all bonded really well. We all had the same feeling together -- like here we are, in Israel."