(July 12, 2021 / JNS) The RootOne teen Israel travel initiative announces a $60 million three-year grant from the Marcus Foundation.
Launched in September 2020 by the Jewish Education Project, RootOne significantly lowers the cost of teen travel to Israel by as much as $3,000 per participant. The program also provides meaningful pre-and post-trip learning experiences so teens can connect with their Jewish peers and form their own Jewish communities.
More than 4,000 teens are participating in RootOne trips this summer run by more than 20 teen organizations and summer camps.
“This grant is our direct response to studies saying teens’ connection to Israel is waning, or that Jewish identity among youth has declined,” says Bernie Marcus, chairman of the Marcus Foundation, which provided RootOne with an initial $20 million seed gift in 2020. “Especially as anti-Semitism on campuses and across the globe increases, we must develop a generation of proud Jews connected to Israel and the Jewish people.”
He stressed that the effort is “designed to do exactly this. We hope other funders join our efforts to remake teen Israel travel at this critical time.”
“I haven’t traveled anywhere in a year-and-a-half because of COVID,” said high school graduate Hannah K. of Houston, a participant on a RootOne Israel trip. “To go to Israel for the first time as my first trip after the pandemic is incredibly special.”
Even one month ago, summer travel to Israel on this scale seemed unlikely. But a partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel helped navigate Israel’s strict COVID rules and regulations. Registration has been robust with most trips sold out.
RootOne also connects teens to an ongoing trajectory of Jewish learning. The teens traveling to Israel this summer have completed online learning to help prepare them for their trips, engaging in educational opportunities such as deep dives into Israeli political history; examining current geopolitical realities in Israel; binge-watching and researching popular Israeli TV shows; how to build meaningful (and cool) Israeli music playlists; and studying Hebrew as part of an ulpan.
The iCenter for Israel Education serves as RootOne’s primary adviser, training educators and leaders who both direct trips and engage with teens before and after they go.
The Marcus Foundation, as a major supporter of Hillel, will help streamline the connection between two critical stages in the lives of young Jews.
“As teens transition from high school to college, we strive to create Jewish experiences that are most meaningful—and most relevant—to them,” says Simon Amiel, executive director of RootOne. “We have a vibrant cross-section of community organizations welcoming teens home after their trips. Trip alumni will then be connected to organizations like Hillel, Birthright Israel, MASA, Moishe House and others to continue their Jewish journeys on campus and beyond.”
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