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Orthodox Union’s Israel summer programs receive multi-million-dollar grant

Two trips, through NCSY and Yachad, will benefit through improving affordability and increasing number of participants and staff.

Thousands of North American teens attend the annual  National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) summer mega-event in Israel, July 25, 2018. Credit: Courtesy of the Orthodox Union.
Thousands of North American teens attend the annual National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) summer mega-event in Israel, July 25, 2018. Credit: Courtesy of the Orthodox Union.

A multi-million-dollar grant awarded by RootOne to the Orthodox Union (OU) is enabling the organization to improve affordability and increase the number of participants and staff for two of its popular Israel experience programs this summer: NCSY’s The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), a four-week co-ed touring trip for public-school teens in ninth through 12th grades; and Yachad’s Yad B’Yad Israel Experience (YBY), a five-week fully inclusive program for 10th- and 11th-grade high-schoolers and young adults with disabilities.

RootOne has been awarding grants to the OU’s summer programs since 2021. An initiative of The Jewish Education Project and funded by the Marcus Foundation, RootOne supports trip providers financially, organizationally and educationally.

Financially, RootOne gives subsidies in the form of $3,000 vouchers to participants of its affiliated Israel summer programs to help them afford the experience. To support educational efforts, in partnership with NCSY and Yachad, RootOne created online courses for participants to complete prior to the trip. The courses include Jewish history, Hebrew and Israeli current events. Learning about Israel before going makes the experience more impactful, according to NCSY international director Rabbi Micha Greenland. Participants continue to receive Israel education during and after the trips.

NCSY brings more Jewish teens to Israel for the summer than any other group, with approximately 2,200 attending NCSY’s roughly 20 Israel programs this coming summer. This year’s grant from RootOne is the largest that NCSY has received from the organization to date. It’s allowing TJJ to bring roughly 800 participants to Israel this summer, over 100 more than its 2022 trip. The funding will also enable TJJ to accept more Israeli participants – about 30 teens this year.

“Including Israeli teens gives our American teens more of an authentic Israel experience,” said director of NCSY Summer David Cutler. “We did it last summer and it was beyond successful. The teens really bonded and were so sad to part company at the end of the summer. A lot of them kept in touch and even got together during the year.”

The grant will also be used to hire six new TJJ educators, who will recruit participants, staff the trip and maintain year-round relationships with teens with a focus on their continued growth. This will include Shabbatons, mentoring, classes and programming.

“This extremely generous gift is an indication that RootOne appreciates the direction that we’re working on together,” said Rabbi Greenland. “They believe in our capacity to grow, in our capacity to program effectively, and to ensure that the Israel experiences are not just four or six weeks during the summertime, but that they will be profoundly impactful far beyond the summer.

Yachad is also receiving additional vouchers from RootOne, which will benefit many of the approximately 105 YBY participants expected this summer. The vouchers make the Israel experience more affordable for parents, according to Yachad summer director Joe Goldfarb, Ph.D.

“RootOne has not only helped our families to afford this important experience,” said Goldfarb. “Their team of educators has also qualitatively improved the scope of background Israel education that each participant receives before, during and after the trip. It’s been an honor to partner with them.”

Yachad international director Avromie Adler said, “Yachad’s mission of inclusion can only happen through the generosity of funders like RootOne and the Marcus Foundation. Yachad’s motto is, ‘Because Everyone Belongs.’ We thank RootOne and the Marcus Foundation for helping to make this dream a reality.”

Reflecting on the incredible generosity of RootOne and the Marcus Foundation, OU president Mitchel Aeder said, “We are extremely grateful for the growing partnership between the OU and RootOne. Israel education and engagement are fraught these days, and RootOne and The Marcus Foundation are tackling this issue head-on. Their support enables NCSY and Yachad to bring an increasing number of teens, including those with special needs, to Israel for meaningful summer experiences, and to follow up with year-round engagement. The RootOne partnership has been a literal game-changer for NCSY and Yachad, and American Jewish teens.”

OU executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer noted that “our experience reflects what numerous studies have shown: an extended, quality Israel experience has a profound and positive impact on participants’ Jewish identity and commitment. This has driven the OU’s commitment to providing impactful summer Israel experiences for teens through NCSY and Yachad. RootOne’s investment in subsidizing these experiences for the participants has made these life-changing experiences significantly more accessible.”

OU executive vice president and COO Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph added: “We are deeply grateful to our partners at RootOne for their investment in the priority of our work with NCSY and Yachad, on behalf of all the teens that are impacted by its generosity.”

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Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.
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