Nearly 4,000 U.S. teens find needed joy in Israel

PHOTO: B’nai B’rith Camp sent 13 teens on an Outdoor Jewish Adventure in Israel, which included a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“After spending over a year without regular communication with friends, teens are more depressed than ever. They finished the school year with less confidence, fewer social skills and a weaker Jewish connection. For the teens who were able to go to Israel this past summer, their lives were immeasurably impacted.” ~Oregon NCSY Director Meira Spivak

36 Oregon teens reap rewards of local and RootOne subsidies

Despite the global pandemic, 36 teens from Oregon were among the nearly 4,000 American teens who traveled to Israel this summer on multi-week trips designed and heavily subsidized by the new RootOne run by The Jewish Education Project. Two Oregon programs provided additional funds to help local teens experience Israel. The Jewish Agency for Israel, along with youth-serving organizations and Jewish residential camps, made the trips possible under unprecedented circumstances. 
Teen struggles with mental health during the pandemic have been well documented. This has coincided with rising anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses, which made RootOne organizers and funders determined to launch the trips this summer. More than 20 teen organizations and summer camps, along with the Jewish Agency for Israel, worked together to navigate pandemic-related policies so that teens could experience Israel with their peers and expertly trained educators and guides.
In addition to RootOne funding, local teenagers also were eligible for funding from two programs that help teens experience Israel – CHAI Israel and Teen Israel scholarships. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, through its CHAI Israel program, provides up to 18% (maximum $1,800) of the cost for any teen in the Greater Portland area participating in an approved teen Israel experience. The Arthur P. Krichevsky Memorial Scholarship Fund of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation provides the same level of funding for eligible teens engaged in synagogue-based Hebrew High programs.
Oregon’s B’nai B’rith Camp launched Outdoor Jewish Adventure in Israel, which sent 13 teens to Israel for three weeks. The trip was filled with unique hands-on experiences at various must-see destinations. 
“After a year without BB Overnight Camp, an opportunity to travel and explore Israel together in a program rooted in BB Camp values was exactly what the teens were looking for,” says BB Camp’s Overnight Camp Director Bette Amir-Brownstein. She adds that BB Camp was thrilled to be a recipient of the RootOne Teen Israel Initiative grant funding, providing $3,000 vouchers to each participant. 
“The Outdoor Jewish Adventure in Israel! program was a truly life-shaping adventure full of joy, connection with other Jewish American teens and the incredible opportunity to connect with my Jewish identity,” says Oregon teen participant Ravit Pearlman.
The BB Camp program prioritized the impact a trip to Israel has on teens, especially a trip rooted in Jewish camp values. Among many destinations and educational topics, participants focused on agriculture and sustainability when visiting the Negev Desert Region, explored Jewish history and identity when visiting Jerusalem, and concentrated on co-existence and diversity when visiting Tel Aviv. The trip was filled with nature and outdoor adventures, which included swimming in the Red Sea, climbing Masada, rafting down the Jordan River and rappelling down Keshet Arch. 
NCSY sent over 1,600 teens to Israel including 16 from Oregon. Programs included TJJ, The Jerusalem Journey, a four-week travel program; the GIVE volunteering program; Rescue Israel, a medical training program in conjunction with 
Israel’s volunteer ambulance corps Hatzalah; and Kollel Mechina, an intensive learning program for public school teens.
“This summer, more than ever, was crucial for the teens’ Jewish connection,” says Oregon NCSY Director Meira Spivak “After spending over a year without regular communication with friends, teens are more depressed than ever. They finished the school year with less confidence, fewer social skills and a weaker Jewish connection. For the teens who were able to go to Israel this past summer, their lives were immeasurably impacted. They made friends, restored former relationships and regained the Jewish spark that was becoming dormant.”
Launched in September 2020 by The Jewish Education Project with initial seed funding from The Marcus Foundation, RootOne significantly lowers the cost of teen travel to Israel
and provides meaningful pre- and post-trip learning experiences so teens connect with Jewish peers and form their own Jewish communities. 
“I was fortunate to visit with some of these teens in Israel; they fully immersed themselves in their surroundings and so clearly appreciated the chance to learn, ask questions and also have fun,” says Simon Amiel, Executive Director of RootOne at The Jewish Education Project. “It was wonderful to see, but the Israel trip is only one aspect of our efforts to develop a generation of Jews who will be proud to stand up for their beliefs in their high schools and on college campuses. RootOne differentiates itself by requiring robust pre- and post- education and engagement.”
The iCenter for Israel Education serves as RootOne’s primary educational advisor, training educators and leaders, who both lead trips and engage with teens before and after the trips. As teens return home, they are met with myriad opportunities coordinated by RootOne and their youth organizations to continue their Jewish learning and deepen their relationship with Israel and Israelis. As the teens head off to college and young adulthood, Root
One will create a pipeline to national organizations such as Hillel and others that will continue to engage them in meaningful Jewish experiences and community. Organizations such as Birthright Israel and Masa will provide future Israel experiences.
RootOne and its partner organizations are already looking ahead to trips next summer. For more information about RootOne, visit
Check with local Jewish youth organizations (BBYO, NCSY, NFTY and USY) and BB Camp about potential teen Israel experiences for next year.
For information and to apply for Portland-area scholarships for Teen Israel trips, visit


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