Once I was a teacher at a religious school and worked with the same kids over a period of three years. When “my class” reached the 10th grade, the students went on an Israel trip through the synagogue. They came back with an enthusiasm I had never seen before; inspired from Israel about everything Jewish. After my first sessions back with them, I realized the three-week impact of Israel was significantly greater than the three years I had spent with them in a classroom. The Israel trip had helped to cement in them a connection to Judaism and Jews that was unparalleled. It had changed them; it helped them understand who they were in a deep and foundational way.
Understanding who we are in this world is the central work of adolescence according to educational philosopher John Dewey. Adolescence is when identity is formed and lifetime commitments to people and ideas are established. Yitz Greenberg, a pre-eminent modern Jewish theologian, stresses the importance of what he calls “total Jewish environmental immersion’ as the critical element in long term Jewish identity formation. He suggests for Jewish parents who wish to cultivate a sense of Jewish pride in their children, they need to take advantage of the opportunities to “plunge” their kids into environments that offer a completely Jewish environment.
The Jewish Federations of North America have done extensive research on identity formation, and the types of programs that achieve the greatest success in achieving it. Jewish day school and Jewish summer camps have amazing success in identity formation. However, no program has been proven to be as successful as imprinting a passion for Judaism into a teen’s DNA for a lifetime as a trip to Israel.
The numbers are amazing. A teen who takes a multi-week trip to Israel with a peer group is 80 percent more likely to marry a Jew than a teen who does not. When they become adults, they are 60 percent more likely to join a synagogue, 45 percent more likely to have their closest friends be Jewish and 67 percent more likely to prioritize Judaism as being important to them. I meet many Jewish parents through my work. They are looking for the “secret sauce” or “magic bullet” that will get their kids hooked on Judaism for a lifetime. To be clear, there are no guarantees…but we can greatly increase our chances when we pick our spots intelligently. My answer to these parents is if you want to give your child the best chance to have a lifetime of participating in Judaism, the statistics make it clear; send your child to Israel, with a peer-group, during his or her high school years.
The Bureau of Jewish Education will be running a four-week trip to Israel this summer (TIES – Teens Israel Experience Summer), taking dozens of Orange and Long Beach County teens on a summer experience of a lifetime. Jewish Federation & Family Services Orange County and the Long Beach and Western Orange County Federation offer financial support to any teen who wishes to go. We are blessed in our community: if you want to send your teen to Israel, all you have to do is raise your hand.
I now understand Israel trips as the greatest Jewish “immersion” programs available to our community, and their impact is without equal. Why should all parents send their Jewish teens to Israel this summer? Because it is the best singular thing you can do to implant a love for being Jewish in your teen that will last a lifetime.
For more information about The Bureau of Jewish Education’s TIES teen summer trip, “raise your hand” and please come to one of the following Family Information Sessions listed below, or contact Sheri Gropper at (949) 435-3450 x329, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, November 29, 6:30pm
@ Temple Beth El, Aliso Viejo
Tuesday, December 6, 7:30pm
@ Temple Beth David, Westminster
Tuesday, December 13, 6:30pm
@ Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot, Irvine
Sunday, January 29, 1:30pm
@ Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana