Although driving on Israel’s roads this time of the year can be frustrating, most Israelis are happy to inch along behind crowded tour buses. So far, 2012 is a banner year for tourism in Israel. Over 1.4 million tourists visited between January and May, 4 percent more than the previous record set in 2010.
For Jews, visiting Israel is more than touring a fascinating country and enjoying amazing sights, great food, and lively culture. Jewish travelers strengthen their Jewish identity, connections and involvement. Jewish tourists are basically visiting their home.
Sociologist Professor Steve Cohen recently released new data claiming that young American Jews are becoming more attached to Israel, probably as a result of the many educational experiences that the Jewish world offers, such as Birthright Israel and other teen trips. This year, over 250 teens from the Michael Ann Russell JCC in Miami, the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC of Milwaukee, Camp Wise of the Mandel JCC of Cleveland, Camp Chi of JCC Chicago, Emma Kaufman Camp of the Greater Pittsburgh JCC, the Gesher group of the Katz JCC, and the Scranton JCC will be experiencing Israel through our JCC Maccabi Israel teen initiative. Thanks to their visit to Israel, these teens will grow up more attached to Israel, we hope. Just by being Jewish college students, these teens may find themselves expected to respond to the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, and their recent visit to Israel will play a key factor in their ability to address these accusations.
Besides teens, thousands of JCC staff and board members have traveled to Israel through our Israel seminars program. In a recent webinar led by Barry Finestone, executive director of the JCC of San Francisco, and Mark Shapiro, executive director of the Samson Family JCC of Milwaukee, both shared the impact of their recent Israel staff seminars on the entire JCC and members. These two JCCs are part of a growing number of JCCs committed to sending their staff to Israel. The MAR JCC sends staff through the different departments. The Jacksonville JCC is planning a year-round Israel education program for their Israel seminar staff as part of their pre-seminar prep.
The JCC Movement’s Vision and Statement of Principles for the 21st Century states the following: “Israel is an eternal birthright of the Jewish people, linking us to our past and to Jews around the world today.” Israel is an imperative part of our Jewish mission, and that connection to Israel and with Israelis is an essential part of our educational role and responsibility. Come and tour the land with us.
Come and tour the land / Yoram Thar Lev
Come and tour the land
With your backpack and stick
and there on your journey
you’ll rediscover the land of Israel
The paths will embrace you
of this good country
she will call you to her
like a love song
Leah Garber , Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office