Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE
Program Leader, Epic Israel
This week the BJE announced the establishment of a new summer program in Israel for high school teens, Epic Israel. I am honored and excited to be the program leader for this trip.
Our tagline for the trip is:
Your first trip to Israel should be epic, right? Thanks to Epic Israel, it will be!
Ask any adult who participated in a trip to Israel as a teen, or any teen who has recently returned from a trip, and you will hear how memorable and transformative (read: epic) an experience they had. Individuals who travel to Israel on teen trips return home with stronger friendships, stronger connections to Israel and stronger connections to Judaism. Such expressions of transformation are not just anecdotal. Research has shown that there is a “correlation between participating in an Israel trip and strengthened indicators of Jewish identity.” (For those interested in learning more about this research on Israel Experiences check out “The Israel Experience” from The Aleph Bet of Israel Education developed by The iCenter.)
What is it about being in Israel that leads to this impact? It is Israel itself. The Israel Experience allows that which was only previously accessible through words on a page or pixels on a screen to come to life. The Israel Experience gives participants the opportunity to learn about Israel in Israel – to see the sites, the people, the historic and the modern, to learn in a manner only feasible when standing in there in real time and place.
When we are in Israel we can stand at the place where Abraham stood when God told him to take Isaac up to the mountain to sacrifice him. When we are in Israel we can walk on the same cobblestones our ancestors traversed when bringing their goods to the ancient markets in Jerusalem. When we are in Israel we can sit on the shore of Lake Kinneret, reading poetry of the early 20th century poet Rachel. When we are in Israel we can experience the art, the music, the flavors, the vibe of the country in real time rather than through YouTube or the Food Network channel. When we are in Israel we can meet, connect, dialogue and learn with Israelis who embody the joy and challenges of life in the Jewish State each and every day.
Why a teen Israel Experience? With that experience, our teens learn about Israel. With that experience, our teens learn about themselves and what Israel and Judaism means to them. With that experience, our teens explore their personal identity and come to see themselves as part of the ongoing story of the Jewish people.
Epic means memorable. Epic means legendary. Epic means transformative. Our teens who participate in Epic Israel will come home saying, “That was epic!” And they will mean it.