Transforming the Jewish community

Young Jewish adults are not building enough of an effusive connection to Israel and programmatic priorities have shifted away from Israel-related education.

TWO PEOPLE walk near the beach in Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS)
TWO PEOPLE walk near the beach in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Our community organizations, federations, and synagogues stress that Jewish continuity is of the utmost importance.  A growing number of organizations promise to support young adults to feel enthusiastic about their Jewish identity and become inspired, active members of their respective Jewish communities. However, there is a glaring hole in the development of these young Jewish identities.
Young Jewish adults are not building enough of an effusive connection to Israel and programmatic priorities have shifted away from Israel-related education.
This hole in the collective Jewish experience is concerning. Israel is at the heart of the Jewish world, but is too often left out of the conversation during the most formative years of a young Jew’s life.
Community builders find themselves explaining “why” Israel matters once Jews are established adults instead of having the opportunity to challenge young Jews to experience the “why” while they are forming their own Jewish identity.
As the North American chief operating officer (COO) of Masa Israel Journey and an avid proponent of building stronger relations between Israel and the Diaspora, I propose that the Jewish community embrace a culture-change that encourages all young Jews to have an immersive experience in Israel.
Instead of visiting Israel for just a few days or a week, young Jews should spend a significant period of time living in Israel as they explore their personal and professional growth. Annually, about 12,000 Masa Israel Fellows enjoy long-term experiences in Israel of this nature. What if that number doubled? Tripled?
I imagine a Jewish future in which we would lead our young people according to the English class assignment of “show, don’t tell”; stop explaining why these connections are important and instead allow young Jews to experience why these connections are important for themselves. We would have a generation of emerging leadership that has personal experience with the diversity of Israeli people, politics, and businesses. Parents would encourage their teens to plan a year in Israel with the same excitement with which they sign up their kids for Jewish summer camp.
The evidence supports the hypothesis that meaningful experiences in Israel are essential for the health of the Jewish community, especially with regard to solving the Jewish leadership pipeline gap. A 2014 study by The Bridgespan Group found that an estimated 75%-90% of Jewish nonprofits do not have talent to fill executive leadership roles. This is largely because nonprofits are not sufficiently developing leadership pipelines and are failing to attract new talent.
In response to these findings, The Rosov Consulting team conducted a 2018 study on the effects of long-term Israel experiences on young adults. The data unequivocally shows that young adults who spend significant time in Israel are more likely to remain active in the Jewish community, volunteer, and even enter Jewish leadership positions.
So why aren’t we walking the walk and encouraging more young adults to embark on long-term experiences in Israel?
I have personally seen the effects of these experiences on young adults. I see the results immediately and five, ten, and even over 15 years later. I, myself, became more engaged after spending a year in Israel. The life-changing experience led me to become a Jewish leader and it is the reason I am committed to providing these same opportunities for young adults today.
 
Masa Israel programs are offered at the perfect age – 18 to 35 years old – when most young adults are exploring their identity. They are seeking answers about the trajectory of their lives and questioning complex issues in their immediate and global environments. What better place to do this than at the heartbeat of the Jewish people: Israel?
In Israel, Fellows can ask big questions, develop their identity, and grow into the next generation of Jewish leaders all while gaining first-hand exposure to Jewish peoplehood, identity and our rich history. Alumni feel the effect of their experience long after their programs end. They emerge more engaged in their communities, more energized, and more confident about their relationship with Israel and the Jewish world.
The answer is in plain sight: the Jewish community is stronger when young Jews have long-term experiences in Israel. 
The writer is North American COO for Masa Israel Journey.