Surveys by Jewish organizations and studies done by academics have concluded that three elements of Jewish life help to ensure that children remain strong Jews into adulthood. They are: day school education, Jewish camping and Israel experiences.
Judging from the three stories that make up our cover package this week, you could conclude that Israel trips can be formative even for young adults. We know this is true for many Birthright Israel participants. But it also is true for post-Birthright-age adults.
And if you added our coverage from last week about where the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia funds go in our community, the stress on identity-building programs would again make Israel experiences of any type seem a potent tool in keeping our young people tied to Judaism and the Jewish homeland.
Our three cover essays this week look at the connection to Israel from different angles. One of the themes, sports, has been getting a lot of play recently with the opening of the Maccabiah Games in Israel, which will run to the end of the month. For some athletes, competing in the “Jewish Olympics” will be their first time in Israel and will no doubt serve as a powerful eye-opener about the global ties of Jewish peoplehood. For others, like our essayist Sara Greenberg, who played for Israel in the Woman’s Lacrosse World Cup in Canada last week, an already strong connection can be magnified. As she puts it: “I am honored to represent a country that seeks peace. I am honored to represent a country that not only protects the Jewish people all over the world but also represents the highest standards of freedom and democracy.”
Staff writer Eric Berger says that having experienced a Birthright trip and a visit with Philadelphia’s Chevra group, his experience of both Judaism and Israel has been expanded:
“This trip with the Chevra in June made Jerusalem feel less foreign, more habitable for a non-Orthodox Jew. It also showed me that within Orthodox Judaism, there is more to like than not.”
Leah Howard, the daughter of an Israeli, who says she’s always felt a connection to the land and a love for its people, found something even deeper on her trip with Federation’s Israel 360 program. “My connection to the land of Israel was affirmed, my love for the people deepened, but, most important of all, my understanding of the vital and essential existence of the state of Israel, our homeland, was fully realized. My experience was not unique; all 40 of the young adults in the group shared similar emotions as we reflected on what this trip had meant to us.”
What more evidence does one need to recognize the efficacy of Israel visits to connect young Jews to the land and our traditions? Granted, these are only three voices, but they are three distinct voices that give us considerable hope.