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Israel summer programs: Sun, smiles and safety

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Birthright Israel participants CHABAD OF BINGHAMTON PHOTO
Birthright Israel participants CHABAD OF BINGHAMTON PHOTO

Winter is over half over but the days are still dark and gloomy. So what better time to think about… summer?! If you are a high school or university student – or a decade or three older – and looking for a summer program in Israel, then start your hunt now. Today, we’ll look at programs where you can hone your Hebrew, delve into the history of the Middle East or gain new insights into Judaism.

But first, let’s look at safety. Israelis and tourists alike have been traumatized by months of stabbings and other violence. However, according to a recent article from TIME called “American students visiting Israel not dissuaded by unrest“, trips are continuing as planned, with Birthright Israel sending some 16,000 participants.

But they are taking precautions. “Birthright has added an extra security guide to each of the two Birthright trips currently in Israel, in addition to the standard Israeli security escort, trained medic and two staff members who accompany all the trips,” said a spokesperson.

Birthright, as well as other Israeli programs, provide details of their security measures on their web pages. Aish Hatorah, which hosts a variety of  Israel experiences, addresses safety concerns from both logical and spiritual points of view.

“Israel is one of the most dangerous countries in which to drive and over 600 people are killed each year in Israel through car accidents. An average of 100 Jews have been killed each year by terrorists – a fraction of the number killed in car accidents. But no one refuses to go to Israel for fear of being in a car accident. … If there would be an imminent and real danger, the rabbis would have called upon all people to leave Israel, being that life is of paramount importance,” states Aish on its website.

As for the trips themselves, Taglit-Birthright offers free educational experiences for Jewish young adults aged 18 to 26. Most trips run ten days with some longer ones offering college credits.  I was particularly interested to see the range of what they call their “niche trips”:

  • Law: Brings students from across the legal world together “to experience Israel’s deep and thorough legal system”
  • Culinary: Explore the Israel foodscape and connect to the country through its local flavours
  • New Age: Learn how Israel can bring creative flow and harmony to artists, musicians, and independent thinkers

Similar to Birthright, Masa Israel offers 200 programs, most of which range from two to twelve months of “study, service, and career development programs for young Jews,” including:

  • The Marva Course: Located in Sde Boker in the Negev and run by Israeli soldiers and officers, it allows young Jewish adults from abroad the opportunity to take part in an Israeli army experience.
  • The Co-Existence Track on Kibbutz: Located within Kibbutz Harduf and at the Shaar L’Adam spiritual centre, it focuses on inter-religious projects supporting peaceful co-existence and agricultural development with Jews and Arabs.
  • Weizmann Institute of Science: Accepts a select number of outstanding undergraduate students to participate in research projects in mathematics, physics, chemistry and life sciences.

The Jewish Agency website allows you to drill down through almost 400 opportunities by answering a few questions about your interests. Let’s say you are university age and want to “explore Israel’s heritage” for a couple of months outside the big cities. You could:

Although some of the above programs are heavily subsidized, the discounts are usually geared toward teens and twenty-somethings. If you fall outside that demographic and are trying to score a free trip, it is possible.

For example, if you were nominated for a Best Actor or Best Director Oscar at the Academy Awards, you got a free swag bag featuring a complimentary 10-day luxury trip to Israel worth $55,000 (US). You are promised five star treatment “and all the falafel you can eat!”

Not invited to walk the Oscar red carpet this year? I’ll have more Israel suggestions – for the rest of us – next time.

Contact Mark Mietkiewicz via email here.

Photo: Chabad of Binghamton

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