Opinion

The next iteration of teen Israel engagement

It is time to meet young Jews where they are and create Jewish global citizens.

Illustrative photo. Credit: Courtesy.
Illustrative photo. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Leor Sinai. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Leor Sinai

Educational experiences in Israel are vital to the continuity of Jewish identity, peoplehood and a sense of connection to Israel. RootOne, powered by the Jewish Education Project, is focused on increasing the number of North American Jewish teens who have immersive experiences in Israel and maximizing the positive impact such experiences have on a teen’s trajectory in their personal and Jewish lives.

Such experiences encourage our youth to step out into the world, to grow, discover and be bold in a 21st-century global community. RootOne recognizes that the field of teen experiences in Israel serves as the catalyst we seek, and the experience our youth desire.

Israel is an open-air, active classroom where questions can be encouraged and youth identity formed. It is a space where the past intersects with the present, and religion, secularism, geopolitics, global citizenry, innovation and social action all come together. Israel is the place where the colorful tapestry of peoplehood, customs, traditions, politics and social group-identity narratives intersect.

This leads to an exchange—sometimes an unfiltered debate—unlike any other Jewish experience. It is the space where educational frameworks anchored in intentional experiences have the potential to evoke emotions that help establish a young person’s connection to Israel for the rest of their lives. We believe the field of teenage Israel engagement must continue to grow because it is a critical component of lifelong Jewish identity formation.

Yet for the field to realize its potential long-term impact, Israel educational experiences need to be designed with this generation of young learners in mind. It must maximize their ability to own their journey. This generation is global; it wants to lead; and it wants to do so now.

Amidst our second summer in support of transforming an entire generation of North American Jewish teens, RootOne is excited to have more than 5,000 Jewish teens in Israel at this very moment, and we are well on our way to doubling this number in the next three to five years.

However, increasing the number of teens coming to Israel is only half of our mission. We are also tasked with maximizing the impact that these experiences have on the trajectory of a young adult’s life. This task requires a thoughtful and measured approach to building intentional Israel educational experiences.

Together with our partners, RootOne is launching the next iteration of Israel teen engagement anchored in student-centered intentional experiences that highlight the beauty and wonder of Israel, but do not shy away from the complexity and nuance that accompanies the Jewish state.

We want to better understand where the field of Israeli experiences needs to go to meet the needs of our youth as individual members of global citizenry and as members of global Jewry. As in every generation, today’s Jewish teens are different from previous generations. They deserve to be engaged in a proactive and relevant way. Culturally, emotionally, theologically and intellectually driven, the relationship Jews’ have with Israel cannot be neatly relegated to political discourse or a framework of learning that does not meet its learners where they are.

Engaging teens today requires moving from a narrow conversation about Israel to a wider range of topics, interests and approaches to experiencing the Jewish state. Such approaches must incorporate diverse opinions, open space for dialogue, transparency and opportunities for shared experiences that advance universal and particularly Jewish values and language among our teens today.

As we celebrate our second summer of success, impacting thousands of teens across North America, we are excited for all that lies ahead. Launching this next iteration of Israel engagement alongside RootOne trip providers and operators will ensure that teens today have every opportunity to forge their personal and collective relationship with Jewish identity, peoplehood and Israel. Just take a moment to imagine an educational Israel experience that invites our teens to explore, engage, debate and dream together, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Rabbi Leor Sinai is the senior director of Israel education at RootOne.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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