Tripping Out

I am pleased to share that our community’s annual campaign is just shy of $3 million! Our campaign continues to grow and is still at a 5% donor-for-donor increase. Your support is critical as we work to enhance Jewish life. Thank you for making a difference.

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to participate on a six-week summer experience in Israel. It was one of those “rites of passage,” an era when it seemed every Jewish teenager went on a trip. Times change and the trips became more expensive, interfered with summer camp or other summer activities, or Israel was in the news for terror attacks. Suddenly, the number of participants dropped, yet at the same time communities were providing more scholarship assistance than ever before. And then, thirteen years ago, Taglit-Birthright Israel  came into existence. Several major funders, along with the State of Israel and the North American Jewish Federation system, collaborated to provide the gift of a free 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish adults between the ages of 18 and 26. The trips aimed to “strengthen each participant’s identity as a Jew; to build an understanding, friendship and lasting bond with the land and people of Israel; and to reinforce the solidarity of the Jewish people worldwide.” The one caveat – you were ineligible for Taglit-Birthright Israel if you had previously participated on a peer educational trip. Since that time, over 350,000(!) young people from around the globe have participated on the program.

Unfortunately, families began to make a choice between a paid Israel trip during high school (which would exclude them from going on Taglit-Birthright Israel later on) or waiting until age 18+ and go to Israel for free. Many families chose the latter option, despite a shorter and less immersive experience.

On Wednesday, Taglit-Birthright Israel made a major decision - its program eligibility will now include those young adults who previously visited Israel as part of a peer educational trip when they were younger. This is a very exciting change in policy. The basis for the change was an educational assessment that those who may have visited as a teenager would add to their understanding and attachment to Israel through the Taglit-Birthright experience as a young adult.

Beginning with the Summer 2014 (registration opens on February 19), applicants between the ages of 18-26 who had made a prior visit to Israel on an organized peer trip before they reached the age of 18 years old may now apply.  This will enable thousands more to benefit from the Taglit-Birthright Israel’s program. 

In partnership with the Oregon Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (along with funds from the Krichevsky Fund at the OJCF) provides significant funding for approved teen trips to Israel. Through a longstanding agreement, funding is made available for students who participate in the synagogue supplementary high school programs. Smaller amounts of funding are available for high school students not in the synagogue programs who wish to travel to Israel. Contact the Jewish Federation for more information.

My message – YOUNG PEOPLE SHOULD GO TO ISRAEL! In fact, each of us should visit at least once over a lifetime. The impact is enormous and the splendor of the country will astound you. And, now, even better, why not go (at least) twice before you reach the age of 26? Go on one of the many exceptional teen experience opportunities and also participate in Taglit-Birthright Israel. You won’t be sorry.

So beyond financial assistance for young people interested in teen Israel experiences, the Jewish Federation also provides assistance for children attending Jewish day schools (via our allocations process) and Jewish overnight camps (One Happy Camper incentive grants). We have also had initial conversations about potential ways to help more families enroll their children in Jewish preschools.

It always troubles me that for many, costs become a barrier to Jewish involvement. It feels wrong. It is frustrating. I hear that Jewish life costs too much all the time. Some will say, if it is a priority then the individual/family will find a way. It is about choices. Others do not even look into the various options because of the perceived costs. What I do believe is that that every Jewish organization wants to do its best to work with families and to be affordable/accessible to them. It is not always possible, but the intention is certainly there.

As we move through the winter months, I know that many families are looking at enrolling their children in a variety of programs, whether Jewish summer camp, Jewish day school, summer Israel experiences, Jewish pre-school, etc. Explore! Look for various options! Feel free to call the Jewish Federation as a resource. But most importantly, make it a reality. In fact, this Sunday is Winter FunFest at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center from 3:00 – 4:30PM  for families wanting a fun afternoon while exploring day camp and preschool options.

On a separate note, over the past week, Lou Feldstein, the consultant hired to study the Jewish Portland Tomorrow/NEWCO concept, met with each Federation partner agency president and director, the Federation Governing Board, the Jewish Portland Tomorrow committee, and several key stakeholders in the community. This introductory visit will be followed by multiple visits where additional conversations will take place. I will keep you apprised of opportunities for your input as the consultant does his work.

Shabbat shalom.



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