Mitzvah Corps Israel
Experience Israel off-the-grid. Engage with refugees from Syria and Sudan. Meet with people of all faiths and ethnic identities. Snorkel in the Red Sea. Feel the spiritual energy of Tzfat. Sleep under the desert stars. Be part of a kibbutz community. Learn and practice Hebrew. Hike in the mountains and float in the Dead Sea. Support integration of Ethiopian immigrants. Find the beauty in Israel's complexities.
2019 Trip Details
|Issue Focus||Civil Liberties|
|Community Service Hours||120 hours|
Israel plays a fundamental role in our Jewish story, and its history and presence as the Jewish State is a strong component of Reform Judaism. However, Israel is also home to many different faces and voices, to individuals and cohorts with various religious and ethnic affiliations, all of whom exist alongside and interact with one another on a daily basis. These narratives may seem contradictory, but using Jewish values as a guide, there are many organizations and projects that exist around the country to offer opportunities for meaningful partnership in the collective effort to achieve peace.
Mitzvah Corps Israel participants embark on a journey to discover these incredibly inspiring initiatives; to engage with citizens of Israel whose stories too often go untold, and whose positive impacts and messages of peace too often go unheard. By being immersed in these various communities, working alongside those with a shared vision of peace and collaboration, hearing their stories and learning from their methodology, teens on this program come away with a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of Israel’s demographics. Peeling back the layers of conflict and unrest, they’ll be exposed to the power of an authentic Israel, its natural beauty, historical significance, and ultimately the genuine stories of cooperation and understanding between its people.
Over the course of the experience, the group will spend time working alongside various cultural communities in major cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, in smaller towns like Be'er Sheva, and on kibbutzim. These immersive experiences will allow American teens he opportunity to build real connections with their peers in Israel. Partner volunteer organizations include:
- LOTEM, dedicated to making Israel's outdoors accessible to those with physical disabilities.
- Yemin Orde, a youth village for at-risk immigrants and refugees from around the world.
- Ziv Medical Center, a hospital that welcomes everybody, including Syrian refugees.
- Mesila, providing support for immigrants, migrants, and refugees in Tel Aviv.
- A New Dawn in the Negev, helping Bedouin children learn English.
- Earth's Promise, developing sustainable urban agriculture in the desert of Be'er Sheva.
Exploring the Country
- Walking the winding streets of the Old City of Jerusalem
- Watching the sun rise from atop Masada
- Relaxing on the beaches of Tel Aviv
- Hiking the hills of the Negev (desert)
- Riding a camel
- Exploring the ruins of ancient cities
- Snorkeling in the ocean of Eilat
- Floating in the Dead Sea
- Kayaking down the Jordan River
- Ascending to the top of the Bahai Gardens
Experiencing an Authentic Israel
Below is an outline of our itinerary. We refine the schedule as we approach each summer to respond to the evolving needs, and take advantage of the most current opportunities, in the local communities. Shabbat will be modified to match the current year's calendar and itinerary; below are examples of the ways in which the group will celebrate.
Day 1 - Departure for Israel
The group will gather at a domestic airport for an initial orientation, and fly together to Israel.
Day 2 – Arrival into Israel
Upon arrival, the group will be met by their Mitzvah Corps Israel staff, and travel north to Kibbutz Afik, to the east of the Sea of Galilee. There, they’ll spend more time getting to know one another, and setting context to the trip ahead.
Day 3 – Israeli Land & Borders
The group will begin their first full day in Israel by exploring their physical environment, getting to know the land itself as context for upcoming meetings with the various people who inhabit it. They’ll start with the Jilaboon water hike, which ends with a beautiful waterfall and natural pools to swim in. After lunch, they’ll travel to Mount Bental in the Golan Heights, which overlooks Israel’s borders with both Syria and Lebanon. It’s a striking contrast to be in such a peaceful place, yet to visualize just how small the country is, and the real implications that these close borders have had on Israel’s history. From there, they’ll return to Kibbutz Afik to prepare for their first Shabbat in Israel.
Day 4 – Shabbat on a Kibbutz
After a late wake up and breakfast, the group will spend Shabbat in true Israeli kibbutz style, by relaxing at the pool, meeting and engaging with their Israeli peers, and getting a feel for real communal living!
Day 5 – Welcoming the Stranger
In the morning, the group will head to Tzfat, where they’ll learn about the roots of Jewish mysticism and enjoy the renowned galleries and shopping that the city offers. From there, they’ll spend time at the Western Galilee Hospital, which treats Syrian refugees, and begin to build an understanding of the stories of the different groups that make up Israeli society, and the political complexities of the ways that each are welcomed and treated. To close out the day, they’ll repel down Maarat Keshet, a large natural cave. This quick mentality shift, going from Tzfat to a hospital to a cave, is typical of the Israeli life, to find and appreciate beauty and peace, and simultaneously be seeking support for those in such close proximity that are suffering.
Day 6 – Broadening Coexistence
The term “coexistence” in the context of Israel has come to imply peace between cultural groups; this morning, the group will explore how the term also applies to creating inclusive space for all people in the natural environment. They’ll spend time working with LOTEM, an organization that adjusts existing hiking trails to make them accessible to people with various physical impairments, as well as runs programs for at-risk youth, and women and children who have experienced abuse, to use nature as therapy. In the afternoon, they’ll continue the coexistence theme by visiting the beautiful Bahai Gardens, and touring Wadi Nisnas, an Arab community that uses art as the foundation for partnership with their Jewish neighbors. The group will celebrate the 4th of July with a pool party and BBQ dinner back at the kibbutz!
Day 7 – Young Refugees
In the morning, the group will work with Yemin Orde Youth Village, a community of at-risk refugee and immigrant youth from around the world, providing them with therapeutic care and academic support. They’ll then spend time at Dalyat El Carmel to learn about the Druze culture, and how their diasporic lifestyle has been received in Israel, and have some free time to explore their shuk (outdoor market). To round out the day, they’ll visit the Atlit Detention Camp, once used to imprison illegal immigrants who were captured by the British in the 1940s. Today, Atlit is being restored as an educational space to honor the struggles of those who worked hard to call Israel home.
Day 8 – Jewish Identity in Israel
Beginning with a tour of Old Acco, the group will travel through the Underground Prisoners Museum to continue building an understanding of the Jewish journey to Israel, and how it shapes a unique Jewish identity in this space. After free time in Acco’s shuk (outdoor market), they’ll visit the Jewish Identity Project in Ma’a lot, and then explore the beautiful grottos of Rosh Hanikra.
Day 9 – Economic Disparity in Israel
Today the group will head south to Tel Aviv! Along the way, they’ll volunteer with Leket Israel, the National Food Bank and the leading organization in the fight for food justice, and visit the Little Switzerland nature reserve. Once in Tel Aviv, they’ll begin by walking the city, getting a sense of the various neighborhoods, and the way that the geography paints a picture of the significant gap in economic status in the country’s thriving cultural hub.
Day 10 – The Asylum Seeking Community
Begin with an introduction to BINA, a secular yeshiva (school for religious studies), which creates opportunities for students to connect with Judaism through social justice and community engagement. After learning about their work, the group will volunteer in one of the community gardens that serves a non-Israeli population, and get to meet and spend time with members of the asylum seeking community. In the afternoon, they’ll visit Independence Hall, discussing the various ways that the Israel they’ve gotten to know thus far is aligned with, or disconnected from, the original vision for the State. After some rest and time to prepare for Shabbat, they’ll head to the Tel Aviv port for Shabbat by the sea!
Day 11 – Shabbat in Tel Aviv
The group will mark Shabbat this morning by spending time with Beit Daniel, part of The Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism. Historically, the Jewish community in Israel has been primarily Orthodox, with the alternative being secular living, so the group will get to learn from one of the organizations at the forefront of introducing progressive Judaism to Israel. After lunch, they’ll take a graffiti tour of Tel Aviv on the way to the beach, where they’ll relax for the rest of Shabbat, and then continue exploring the old city of Jaffa in the evening.
Day 12 – Experience Israel through Children’s Eyes
In the morning, the group will volunteer with Mesila, a network of “unrecognized” kindergartens for children of refugees and asylum seekers. After lunch in Rabin Square to close out their time in Tel Aviv, they’ll head south to Sderot, where they’ll volunteer to build a children’s playground inside one of the community’s many bomb shelters. To end the day, they’ll begin to shift the focus toward agriculture development, and visit Naot farm. There, they’ll learn about desert farming and work with the animals, before heading to Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh for the evening.
Day 13 – Farming the Desert
The group will spend the first part of the day with Ethiopian immigrants at Earth’s Promise, the Ethiopian absorption center in Be’er Sheva, and learn about their unique stories. They’ll volunteer in their community gardens, and see firsthand the ways they’ve brought their sustainable farming practices to the Israeli desert, and then have the privilege of taking a cooking class as part of their Be’er Sheva Cooks project. After lunch, they’ll head to the Hajar Bilingual School, which actively welcomes children from both Arab and Jewish communities to be peers with one another. From there, they’ll travel to Sde Boker and visit the grave of David Ben Gurion, while reflecting on the ways that visions come to life, and how to ensure that our actions as individuals, and organizations, are aligned with our values.
Day 14 – The Desert Landscape
First up, the group will volunteer at Kashkash farm in Mitzpe Ramon, a thriving farm run by a local family in the middle of a seemingly barren desert. From there, they’ll go to the Ramon Crater, a geographic phenomenon in the middle of the Negev, and then spend a relaxing afternoon by the kibbutz pool.
Day 15 – Exploration of Bedouin Culture
The group will spend the morning at Wadi Attir, a model for community-based organic farming, run by Bedouins and designed to incorporate their cultures into a sustainable modern-day lifestyle. After lunch, they’ll work with the Bedouin Women’s Empowerment Center, and learn about the unique challenges that Bedouin women have faced, and the ways they are reclaiming the importance of their societal roles. In the afternoon, the group will take a camel ride, and enjoy an overnight in the Bedouin tents.
Day 16 – Masada and the Dead Sea
Bright and early, the group will hike up Masada just in time to see the sun rise over the hills of Jordan. After heading back down for breakfast, they’ll enjoy some time to float in the Dead Sea before heading to the solar farms at Kibbutz Yahel, where they’ll learn about the ways that Israel is on the cutting edge of environmental sustainability and alternative energy.
Day 17 – Red Canyon and Eilat
The morning begins with a hike up the Red Canyon, followed by snorkeling in Eilat. After resting and some time to prepare for Shabbat, the group will celebrate with Kibbutz Yahel.
Day 18 – Shabbat in the Desert
Another relaxing Shabbat will be spent on Kibbutz Yahel, meeting and spending time with Israeli peers who live on the kibbutz, lounging by the pool, and concluding with an evening bonfire.
Day 19 – The Old City of Jerusalem
To begin the last leg of the journey, the group will travel to Jerusalem in the morning, and spend the day exploring the Old City, including the Kotel, the tunnels, and shopping.
Day 20 – Why Israel?
Today, the group with explore the real history behind the creation of the State of Israel, beginning with a powerful visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and then spending time in the Knesset, the Israeli government building.
Day 21 – Progressive Social Issues
In the morning, the group will volunteer at Beit Yalin, a natural preservation project, helping to maintain the historic power of the city of Jerusalem. From there, they’ll visit Har Herzl, the military cemetery, and discuss the impact of mandatory military service both on the national culture, veteran’s affairs, and memorializing those who sacrifice for Israel, especially in comparison to military and veteran culture in the United States. After lunch, they’ll visit Hebrew Union College, the Reform Jewish movement’s rabbinic school in Israel, and then meet with leaders of Women of the Wall, an organization dedicated to bringing progressive Jewish values, particularly regarding women’s rights at the Kotel, to Israel. After some free time to take care of some final shopping, the group will close out their trip, and head to the airport.
Day 22 – Return to the United States
The group lands bright and early into their domestic airport. Thank you for joining us!