Cuba has never been on my list of countries to visit. With the uncertainty regarding individual travel, I have always been concerned that I might be entering a country that I may not be able to exit. In 2014, president Barrack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for United States citizens. Since his election, president Donald Trump has proposed to reinstate many of these limits. Last week I took advantage of this current window of opportunity and participated in an organized trip to Jewish Cuba. During my time there, I discovered a community that was effectively forbidden to practice communal Judaism for thirty years, much like the community in the former Soviet Union. Now, Judaism is blossoming again in Cuba, and many young Cuban Jews are choosing to make aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel.
Taglit-Birthright Israel opened registration earlier this week for Cohort 3 of Taglit Fellows, the professional development program launched in 2014 in partnership with the iCenter for Israel Education as an educational intensive for exceptional Jewish leaders and aspiring Jewish educators looking to staff Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. The first two cohorts were comprised of nearly 200 Fellows who were selected from over 1,000 applicants. The program will welcome in another group of highly motivated and talented individuals to increase the quality of the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience and to play significant roles in the ongoing Jewish journeys of young adults. Registration is at www.taglitfellows.com and is open through May 15, 2015.
“We are excited to build on the successful Taglit Fellows model and the great momentum of cohorts 1 and 2,” said Anne Lanski, Executive Director of the iCenter. “Through the program, Fellows gain new skills that help them leave a lasting impact on Birthright Israel participants and on Jewish youth in their home communities. Now a new cohort will learn directly with leading Israel and Jewish educators to create meaningful Israel experiences that help young Jews develop personal connections to the country and people.”
The Taglit Fellows program includes a four-day in-person seminar of interactive trainings and in-depth conversations with master Israel educators focusing on a range of areas, including how effective storytelling is a tool for education and engagement; how to create ritual moments with personal meaning; and what experiential education might look like at a range of sites in Israel. In addition to the seminar, Fellows engage in online learning and workshops in experiential Jewish education, and over time, form a close network of peers.
Naomi Karp, Director of Student Life at UCLA Hillel and a member of Cohort 2, reflected on her training seminar from earlier this year:
Not only did the Taglit Fellows seminar give me a number of new tools and activities to use when staffing future trips, it also provided me with an incredible community of 100 other Fellows. It was inspiring to learn from the experience of the facilitators and my peers, and I feel empowered with the responsibility of creating more intentional and meaningful experiences for Taglit-Birthright Israel participants rooted in Jewish content and Israel education.
The program, funded by the Maimonides Fund, accepts one hundred participants aged 22 and above every six months, with the majority of Fellows either professionally or personally serving as leaders, educators, and connectors in their Jewish communities. The first Fellows staffed Winter 2014/2015 trips, and Cohort 2 Fellows will begin staffing this summer.
“The bottom line is that the strength of the educational staff is a key factor that influences the quality of the trip,” says Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark. “So we want to continue to raise that quality with more Fellows who are trained to impact the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience.”
Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent close to 500,000 young Jewish adults to Israel from more than 66 countries and from all 50 U.S. states, including students from nearly 1,000 North American college campuses accompanied by more than 70,000 Israelis.
The Israeli-American Council (IAC) has partnered with the successful Taglit Birthright Israel program to launch a special Hebrew track called IAC Shelanu.
The new program offers a 10-day trip to Israel designed specifically for Israeli-American young adults, ages 18-26. IAC Shelanu, in partnership with Taglit Birthright Israel and Israel Experience, will be conducted in Hebrew, aiming to engage this unique group of young leaders and create future Jewish-Israeli community influencers. Registration opens September 9 for the December 2014 program.
According to a recent study commissioned by IAC and conducted by leading Israeli polling company Midgam, about 17% of second generation Israeli-Americans are married to non-Jews and Hebrew fluency drops from 53% to 19% for those living in the U.S. more than ten years.
IAC Shelanu aims to provide an authentic Israel experience that will help these young Israeli-Americans and other Hebrew speakers to connect on a deeper level with their Jewish-Israeli identity and expand their knowledge of and acquaintance with the State of Israel, its history and culture.
IAC Shelanu provides the experience of a lifetime for its participants, including a recruitment process by the IAC that focuses on identifying, selecting, and encouraging potential leaders. IAC Shelanu will then follow up with participants upon their return to ensure an enduring impact on their lives and further involvement in pro-Israel advocacy. Participants will be encouraged to participate in an IAC Shelanu alumni program, which will develop their connections to one another and the State of Israel while fortifying them with the network and skills needed to be ambassadors for Israel.
“The Israeli-American Community is excited to be able to provide this wonderful opportunity to our future leaders. There is no better way to inspire our young generation, ignite their spirit, and connect them to their Jewish-Israeli heritage and the State of Israel, than to bring them to Israel with IAC Shelanu and let them see with their own eyes the history, land, and miracles of our start-up nation.” said IAC National Board Member Adam Milstein. “IAC Shelanu will develop our future leaders, strengthen and build the connection between Jewish and Israeli life, and greatly impact our community for the future.”
More information about IAC Shelanu can be found at its website.