Four years after tying the knot, Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF) and Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) have given birth to their first child, “Roots Israel,” a service learning adventure in Israel for young people.
Crafted in response to the growing communal needs for Jewish teen engagement, Israel advocacy and community service, on this journey, teens learn how the history of the land and its people served as a catalyst for Israel becoming a global leader in innovative environmental approaches, and how these approaches are rooted in the mission and values of Judaism.
“Many high schools have community service requirements that must be fulfilled prior to graduation, and service-learning vacations are a big trend in the U.S. right now for the teen community. While these kinds of experiences are offered all over the world, Roots Israel has found the Jewish students who are looking for something similar,” explains Yishai Goldflam, JNF’s Executive Director of Israel Advocacy and Education.
Based on an expansion of JNF’s successful Alternative Spring Break and Volunteer Vacation models, participants plant trees, spend time on farms, work with disabled soldiers and young people in the Negev creating entrepreneurial opportunities, and help Ethiopian families growing crops in the Negev capital of Be’er Sheva. Following the AMHSI-JNF signature of experiential learning, the trip integrates educational elements, teaching the rich history that made the Jewish homeland what it is today.
Roots Israel is a recipient of support from the New York Teen Initiative, an incubator whose goal is to increase the number of teens participating in immersive and inspiring Jewish summer experiences, by meeting the unique needs of today’s teens. The New York Teen Initiative is jointly funded by the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jim Joseph Foundation. The Jewish Education Project serves as lead operator of the initiative.
“The New York Teen Initiative is really about trying to address one of the biggest challenges in Jewish life: the kind of disappearance of Jewish teens after bar/bat mitzvah, but also the fact that there are a great many Jewish teens who have never been engaged in the first place,” said Robert Sherman, CEO of The Jewish Education Project. “We’ve set out to find people and programs who want to experiment and design a whole new way, from business to theatre to sports to social action to speak to kids where they are,” he added.
Through the exploration of Jewish values in these tangible contexts, students are transformed into doers while they establish pride in their heritage. The trip exposes them to all that the Jewish homeland has to offer, while allowing them to have the service-learning vacation they were seeking. Of course, as with any organized Summer Israel trip, there will be purely recreational elements such as kayaking, hiking, camel rides and beach time as well.
The program, which just concluded its first session, brought 32 high school students, aged 15-17, on an inspirational journey to Israel where they earned 40 community service hours, made new friends and did their part to help repair the world. Lasting just over three weeks, the tour combined environmental, agricultural and social sustainability learning, with hands-on projects that expose teens to issues that are driving global change today.
Two thirds of the class participants are from the Greater New York area with the rest from across the country, and two from France. Marni Heller of New Rochelle, is Director of Roots Israel and personally staffed the tour that included 5 County students including Talia Krausz of White Plains, Ruthi Wasserman of Scarsdale, Abigail Leonard and Janney Collens, both of Pelham and Annie Segal of Chappaqua.
The goal is that upon their return home, these Jewish teens will be so profoundly inspired, and having obtained a comprehensive understanding of the issues, that they will be encouraged to facilitate improvements in their respective communities. Students will also be invited to continue participating in the JNF Israel Continuum, which may include attending an academic session at AMHSI-JNF, attending the High School and/or College Summits at JNF’s National Conference, becoming a JNF Campus Fellow, participating in an Alternative Break trip, becoming a member of the JNFuture young adults affinity group, and beyond.