Onward, a new Jewish Agency program for Birthright alumni wishing to revisit Israel, has finished its pilot phase and is gearing up for its official launch.
Trips running within the new framework, which like Birthright will be funded by JAFI but run by various third parties, are to serve as shorter versions of the organization’s long term Masa program. Masa participants typically stay in Israel between five months and a year and participate in various business, educational and social service oriented activities.
The new framework will incorporate trips between six to 10 weeks in length, short enough to fit into a summer vacation, according to program director Ilan Wagner. Asked why there is a need for such a program, Wagner explained that the second time a Birthright participant comes to Israel he or she is a “different person” and can view Israel with fresh eyes. Moreover, he told The Jerusalem Post, not everyone is either willing or able to spend half a year here on a Masa trip.
Participants in Onward are expected to pay for their own airfare but most of the other expenses are subsidized by JAFI and the partner organizations that organize the trips, agency spokesman Benjamin Rutland said.
A group of female teachers from Argentina currently in the country, most in their early to mid-20s, are one of the last pilot trips to be run during the six months of pilot testing. The group study Hebrew and tour historical and cultural sites and are due to begin interacting with local teachers as part of their continuing professional training.
Nadia Melonski, a 24-yearold elementary school teacher participating in the pilot trip, said that there are some bugs in program and that she was thus far unhappy with some aspects of the program. There was too much of an emphasis on ulpan study and touring and not enough interaction with local educators, she said. However, she continued, the touring did deepen her connection to the land and culture of Israel.
Even though she had lived in Israel for several years during her childhood, she said that much of what she saw on the program was new to her.
“When you live here you don’t always see much of the country.”
Nadia chose to come to Israel now, she said, because opportunities for further education as a Jewish teacher are rare in her home country and she felt she could advance further by coming to Israel.
The participants from Argentina are part of what Wagner described as a “fellowship trip” in which professionals from one field come to Israel due to “ambition.”
Other Onward tracks include programs based on community service and internships.
“We are leveraging the startup Israel brand. Internships give people a leg up” and coming to Israel can provide Diaspora Jews with work experience that can help them land a job when the trip is done, Wagner said.
“The major goal is that this kind of experience gives people more of the ability and desire to strengthen Jewish life and even more to Israel.”