By Rabbi David Wilfond, Director of Education
It is October in Jerusalem, the weather is beautiful, and we are now completing the itineraries for our fun packed and educationally enriching Israel adventures for NFTY in Israel Summer 2019. The educational aspect of the program is intentionally constructed to reflect the best progressive Jewish values of the Union for Reform Judaism. One of the most significant upgrades is that we are presenting a more nuanced and sophisticated encounter with the complexities and conflicts in Israeli society today.
It is planned that all NFTY in Israel buses this summer will meet with Palestinian Peace Activist, Nur Awad, to learn about the realities of life for Palestinians in the West Bank Territories. The teens will also visit the home of an Arab Muslim family in the Arab Village of Ein Rafah near Jerusalem to learn about the experience of living as a member of the Arab Muslim minority in Israeli society.
In past years, we largely ignored the place of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israeli life. Today, this minority is the fastest growing community in Israel and presents many challenges to Secular and Reform life. Last year many of our teens visited the Belz Hasidic community. In feedback from the teens this experience was described as one of the most interesting and challenging days of the summer. One of the takeaways was the idea that when we talk about the Jewish Community it also includes Jews who think and live differently than we do. Also, we can no longer talk about the future of the Jewish Community without including an awareness of the growing Ultra-Orthodox community.
An educational highlight of the program continues to be the interaction week with Israeli Youth. The best way to learn about modern Israel is with Israeli teen peers. We have empowered the Israeli teens to share their personal stories and lives with the Americans in a more intentional way. The Israeli teens now have a formal time in the itinerary when they can share either their family’s Aliyah story (immigration story to Israel), story about Army Service (if relevant), a story about their life near the border, or a chance to teach the American Teens their favorite Israeli pop songs. In the spirit of enhancing our teen’s connections to the inspiring story of the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel, the buses meet with an Israeli Reform teen who shares her life in “My Israeli Reform Jewish Story.” The last Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service in Israel is celebrated in the Old City of Jerusalem at the Reform Egalitarian Section of the Western Wall (Kotel). This location is also a place of prayer and celebration for the Women of the Wall.
Today’s teens are sophisticated, media savvy and just plain smart. They are not satisfied with educational programs that smack of propaganda or a 2-dimenssional picture perfect postcard of Israel in black and white. They want to learn about the real Israel, her achievements and challenges (warts and all). We strive to give our teens real knowledge and real tools to be able to take part in the bigger conversation about the future of the Jewish People, both in Israel and North America. We want to empower our teens to take leadership roles in shaping the conversation between North American Jews and Israeli Jews about what kind of a Jewish People we want to be in the future. NFTY in Israel provides a safe, honest, and nurturing environment to grow as a young Reform Jewish teen.