2011 JCC Maccabi Games/ArtsFest Represents 10 to 15 Percent Increase in Teens Traveling to Israel

New York, NY, May 19, 2011–At a time when fewer North American Jewish teens are interested in visiting Israel, JCC Association has devised an ingenious plan to get them there. Bring an event to the Jewish state that draws thousands of teens each summer wherever it’s held.

This summer’s JCC Maccabi Games/ArtsFest to be held in Israel will bring almost one thousand Jewish teens (plus hundreds of adult staff, family members, and coaches), a number that represents a significant increase in teen travel to Israel over the last several years. Those teenagers spend money once they arrive, contributing to the Israeli economy, and absorb feelings of commitment and solidarity that cannot be quantified.  

In 2008, about 10,000 Jewish teens visited the Jewish State, but a year later saw a decrease of 10 to 20 percent due to the fluctuating value of the dollar and the weak U.S. economy. Declining membership in non-Orthodox youth movements may also have something to do with a general decline in North American teen tourists, according to a study done by Makom on high-school Israel experience programs. Against this background, JCC Association’s decision to bring the JCC Maccabi Games/ArtsFest in 2011 represents its strong commitment to Israel.

Participating teens will be based in Kiryat Shemona for the first week of their stay, a city in the north that suffered extensive damage during the last war with Lebanon. The teens will be working on restoration projects for Days of Caring and Sharing, the community-service part of the program. Days of Caring and Sharing is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company of North America and supported by The Redwoods Group Foundation. The athletes and artists will be staying in local facilities, using local buses for transportation, and shopping in local stores.

The JCC Maccabi Games were established in 1982, welcoming 300 participants to an Olympic-style athletic event in one community. Since then they have grown to be the largest annual gathering of Jewish teens in North America, hosting thousands of high-school athletes in several different communities each summer. The teens compete in a variety of team and individual sports, as well as participating in community-service projects and social activities. JCC Association manages the Games, providing the structure and staff, while local JCCs organize their own delegations. This summer, Maccabi World Union, a partnering organization for the Games, will be acting as the host community in Israel.

 JCC Maccabi ArtsFest began in Baltimore in 2006, inviting young Jewish artists to participate in workshops with well-known artists-in-residence in a variety of disciplines. At the end of the five-day event, the teens take part in a gala performance. This program also includes community service and social programming. Last year, both Games and ArtsFest were held in Baltimore, establishing a new paradigm for a joint program.

The Makom report states that high-school programs are the best way to inculcate connection to Israel and to transform lives, and the Games and ArtsFest fall into that category. “From a system-wide perspective, high school and Birthright programs complement one another. Each pulls from distinct target populations, and both produce alumni who are likely to return to Israel for additional educational opportunities as the result of their Israel experience program,” says the Makom report.

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