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Connect Jewishly Through Honeymoon Israel

By Jewish Journeys, NextGen Atlanta

“I never could have predicted the true impact of this experience—we had the most incredible trip that I am certain has changed our lives forever. We found new ways to incorporate Judaism into our family, we learned new perspectives, and most importantly, we found a new community to create and share memories with for years to come.” 

Allison & Sam, Atlanta 

For many young couples, it can be tough to find an entry point into Jewish life and decide how practices and traditions will shape their family. Honeymoon Israel offers a way in: immersive group travel to Israel lets couples from the same city encounter and explore history, tradition, and identity on their own terms.

The program engages couples in an open-ended inquiry into how they connect to Jewish life and how they’ll incorporate Jewish values and traditions into their families. Honeymoon Israel supports couples in their exploration of Jewish life and traditions and fosters the organic development of community. The journey continues once travelers return home through alumni events and programs.  

Honeymoon Israel builds groups that are reflective of the entire community, welcoming couples who are both Jewish, interfaith, Jewish by choice, multi-racial, LGBTQ+, with disabilities, married, unmarried, with or without kids, and more. Federation is proud to support the work of Honeymoon Israel in championing and engaging young couples in and around Atlanta.  

Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship Registration is Open!

By Global News, Jewish Journeys

Many teenagers look for exciting opportunities to grow and learn after high school, rather than jumping directly into college. They want to explore their interests; they want to travel, manage their finances on their own, and learn how to subsist on more than just mac and cheese. For these young adults, a gap year is the experience of a lifetime.

JumpSpark is proud to partner with The Zalik Foundation to provide scholarships to Jewish young adults that take a gap year in Israel. Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship applications are currently open, and they are an incredible resource for Atlanta’s adventurous Jewish teens!

Masa is a partner in the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship. Sheryl Korelitz, Masa’s Director of Gap Year Recruitment for Masa North America, says “The dynamism of The Zalik Foundation in combination with the JumpSpark team is creating true culture change in the gap year space. Masa is proud to be a partner in this effort, and we are already seeing other communities looking to Atlanta as a model and guide for Israel teen engagement.”

According to a recent Masa study, Israel Immersive: The Key to a Strong Jewish Future (2022), “long-term programs [such as a gap year] in Israel are an essential investment in the next Jewish generation, cultivating personal growth, a desire to contribute to the global Jewish ecosystem, and a genuine motivation to lead.”

Gap year programs offer teenagers the ability to strengthen their identity, grow a stronger connection to Israel, and deepen their understanding of Jewish peoplehood. The survey notes that 72% of alumni agreed that their gap year in Israel “helped [them] grow as a person.”

Ariel Goldt went on a gap year in 2021-2022, and traveled with the organizer Nativ. She now goes to the University of Alabama and agrees with the survey respondents who say their gap year prepared them for life beyond high school.

She says, “Now that I’m a freshman in college, and talking with my friends who are also freshman who came straight from high school, they’ll encounter situations that stress them out, and those same things don’t phase me. After learning to handle them on my own in another country, it makes taking care of those things in a college town a lot less intimidating.”

“I’m trying to convince my younger brother, who is a senior right now, to take a gap year,” Ariel says. “My parents are big fans of the program; they think it’s the best thing ever.”

During the 2022-2023 school year, JumpSpark awarded scholarships to 28 Gap Year Fellows, and they’re hoping to increase that number to 35 for the 2023-2024 school year.

This Atlanta-specific Fellowship offers a unique opportunity for teens to expand their knowledge of Jewish peoplehood and deepen their understanding of Israeli history and culture. Rich Walter, Federation’s Chief of Programming and Grantmaking, adds “we are investing in [these young adults] as future leaders and influencers and investing in their personal growth and development.”

All Fellows receive a $10,000 scholarship towards participation in one of several pre-approved Israel gap year experiences. Participants gather eight times throughout the Fellowship for specialized opportunities unique to the Atlanta teens, including participation in a new two-day leadership program supported by the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Legacy program, a Shabbaton in Atlanta’s Israeli partnership region, Yokneam-Megiddo, and a Thanksgiving celebration with Atlanta lone soldiers and Israeli dignitaries. Fellows will also participate in the Masa NextStep Conference, with special sessions for Atlanta Fellows focusing on leadership on campus, plus additional strategies for participating in Israeli activities, courses, and organizations on campus.

Fellows who commit to volunteering or working in the Jewish community during the summer following their gap year (May-August 2024) are eligible to apply for an additional $5,000 Service Subsidy. They will design a unique experience for their summer that reflects their year of growth in Israel and encourages others to consider a gap year. This work may take place throughout greater Atlanta, and could include working at a summer camp, interning at a Jewish organization, working at an Israeli-based NGO, or other options.

Applications are open now and close March 31. Click here to apply.

Contact Susie Macker at smackler@jewishatlanta.org for questions about the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Fellowship. Teens in all high school grades and their parents can also connect with our Gap Year Concierge Michal Ilai at milai@weberschool.org to learn more about gap year programs and find the right program for you.

Learn more about Gap Year opportunities from two past recipients in this video:

RootOne Lets Teens Experience Israel 

By Jewish Journeys

RootOne is a program powered by The Jewish Education Project and seeded by the generosity of The Marcus Foundation. Each summer, RootOne helps thousands of Jewish teens travel to Israel on a journey that will shape the rest of their lives. Last summer, RootOne supported 129 Atlanta teens to experience Israel for themselves.   

Lainey Weissman went on one such trip with a group of rising 11th-graders from Camp Coleman. There was a group of teenagers from Atlanta who all attended together—they began their journey at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and were able to bond before even meeting up with the others on their trip.   

“We shared our experiences from all different parts of Atlanta,” she says. Having a group of people from her hometown made her feel more at ease right away. “We had a debate about which was best: Willy’s, Moe’s or Chipotle, and only the Atlanta kids knew what Willy’s was.”   

RootOne trips offer a diverse range of programs to fit any interest. Whether a student is interested in sports, entrepreneurship, or social justice, they can find an Israel experience that will speak to them. But Lainey says that some of her favorite moments on the trip happened on the bus in between activities—the casual downtime “was such great bonding experience.”   

Israel journeys funded by RootOne are highly educational, even before students step on the plane. Groups learn about all sides of Israeli life and culture, from the familiar to the nuanced. American travelers meet Israeli peers and make connections that will span the globe. Lainey says, “I have heard about these places for so long and seeing them in real life was such a cool experience.”   

When asked what surprised her most about Israel, she says, “There are so many cats! But really, it’s how similar it is to America. Obviously, they are different cultures, but seeing some similar chain restaurants and how many people speak English was surprising. I was expecting a language barrier, but there wasn’t one.”  

These inspiring and engaging journeys change the students’ perspectives on life, and on Israel. 76% of RootOne alums report learning more about themselves, and 75% think about Israel differently than before. These trips teach teenagers to be independent and confident.   

“I think it’s really valuable to go when you’re young; getting away from your parents allows you to explore who you are. It was very impactful.” Lainey says this trip specifically taught her about managing money. She says she learned a lot about “How to spend one’s free time and not buy everything in sight.” A very important lesson for any world-traveler.   

Visit https://rootone.org/ to learn more about RootOne and see a list of trip providers. Applications open January 1. 

A Transformative Women’s Retreat in Israel

By Global News, Jewish Journeys

By Ghila Sanders, Senior Philanthropic Officer, Atlanta Jewish Foundation

Last week, sitting under a communal tent in Israel’s Negev desert at sunset, I cheered as 15 women took on Jewish names in front of a crowd of over 200 mothers from various parts of the world experiencing a shared journey. Each one explained why they chose their specific name—some were inspired by their grandmothers; others were drawn to a meaning that felt particularly fitting at this stage of life. We celebrated, danced, sang, and shared stories over an evening that none of us will forget.

Over the course of eight days, 45 Jewish mothers from Atlanta, joined by four Israeli peers, connected with each other, committed to learning together, and engaged with a remarkable country that somehow manages to feel like home even for those visiting for the first time.

The Momentum Journey to Israel is an extraordinary undertaking dreamt up just over 14 years ago by eight women who believed that the key to a better society is through life’s #1 influencers: mothers.

Momentum often invokes the words, “Inspire a woman, you inspire a family. Inspire enough families, you inspire a community. Inspire enough communities, you can change the world.”

Since its inception, this international movement has brought over 20,000 women from 34 countries to Israel through partnerships with close to 300 local organizations. In Atlanta, the Jewish Women’s Connection, led by Julie Silverman and Batsheva Gelbtuch and supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, has put together an exceptional contingent of Jewish mothers—consistently the largest group to join each cohort. I was honored to have the opportunity to represent Federation as a Community Leader and immerse myself in a transformative trip that set the stage for personal and communal growth through Jewish values. And most notably, it created an invincible sisterhood.

An amazing addition to our journey was getting to know an incredibly special group of mothers from the Israeli organization Or La-mishpachot, “Light to the families,” whose 1500 members are bound by the unimaginable loss of a child in the army. Having them as part of our group was a true gift.

Together we experienced a multidimensional journey: from the enchantment of holy sites and the perpetual battles that surround them, to the complexity of spiritual and religious practices; we explored the intensity of grief, and of joy. We mourned at Yad Vashem, overwhelmed by the unfathomable history of the Holocaust, and found solace in our collective presence in the land of Israel. We visited Shalva, a most impressive center that provides services to children with disabilities and their families. And we went to Yokneam-Megiddo, our Federation’s sister city—one of the region’s most welcoming areas for refugees, which has also developed into a high-tech hub.

For me, this experience was both a personal and professional discovery: experiencing the Momentum Israel Journey and seeing its undeniable impact on this incredible group of mothers was humbling and pride-inducing all at once. I am delighted to work for a Jewish organization that invests in women, supports local efforts in Israel, and values our unbreakable bond as a people.

I am still learning the many ways in which the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta connects the dots across continents, and its effects are remarkable: after eight days of traveling together we came back stronger as a community, more knowledgeable about our initiatives and impact, and determined to stay actively engaged. Moreover, our four Israeli peers from Or La-mishpachot now have a special kinship with Jewish Atlanta and plan to visit whenever possible. I look forward to welcoming them in the coming months and continuing this year of learning with my new sisters.

RootOne Sends Teens to Israel

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Jewish Journeys

Bess Needle is a junior in high school and is active with the Jewish Student Union (JSU). This summer, she embarked on a trip to Israel with a group of other teens from Atlanta. The cost of her journey was subsidized by RootOne, an initiative seeded by a generous gift from The Marcus Foundation and powered by The Jewish Education Project.

This was Bess’s first time visiting the Land of Milk and Honey, and many of her expectations about Israel were challenged. She knows now that Israel “is a diverse place filled with many different people, cultures, and passions. It is so different than what the media portrays.”

Each summer, RootOne helps thousands of Jewish teens travel to Israel on a journey that will shape the rest of their lives. During their time in an Israel program, 76% of RootOne alums report learning more about themselves, and 75% think about Israel differently than before. Last summer, RootOne supported Bess and 128 Atlanta teens to create lasting memories in Israel.

Bess went as part of a group from JSU and loved experiencing the country with other teens from her hometown. “It was really exciting!” She says that until this trip, she “didn’t realize how big Atlanta is or how many other Jewish teens there are. It was cool to bond about being from Atlanta while in Israel.”

RootOne journeys are highly educational, even before students step on the plane. Groups learn about all sides of Israeli life and culture, from the familiar to the nuanced. American travelers meet Israeli peers and have the opportunity to make connections that will span the globe. And RootOne trips offer a diverse and wide range of programs to fit any interest. Bess says her favorite parts of the trip were the outdoor activities, including tornado boating, ziplining, and a 3 am hike.

RootOne grants vouchers to teens to subsidize the cost of their journey. Interested students should confirm their eligibility through RootOne and then choose a supported trip provider. After completing the pre-trip requirements, RootOne sends a $3,000 voucher directly to the trip organizer, which deducts that amount from the overall cost.

Bess says she gained a “real-life perspective of what being a teen is like in Israel versus the U.S.” She recognized many similarities between their lives and significant differences, like “prepping for the army versus prepping for life post-high school.” Bess says she’s glad she went to Israel while she was still a teenager. “You get to form a real-world opinion of Israel at a younger age; not many have the chance to do that. And I got to form bonds with people, and we all got to share the experience of this trip together. And we can keep in touch more since we are in the same city.”

When asked what she learned, Bess said this trip has helped her prepare for life on a college campus when discussing Israel. This sentiment is common for RootOne alums – 81% believe it is important to be involved in Jewish life on campus, and 81% feel capable of standing up to anti-Semitism. Bess says she “…realized that other places are not always what you expect; [you shouldn’t] make assumptions.”

Visit https://rootone.org/ to learn more about RootOne and see a list of trip providers. 

 ”A New Perspective in Israel” – An Onward Hillel Blog

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Global News, Jewish Journeys

This summer, Georgia Tech rising junior Talia Segal explored Israel through the Birthright Israel and Onward Israel programs. After enduring anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments from a roommate her sophomore year, Talia approached her summer in Israel as an opportunity to “solidify my Zionism, strengthen my relationship to Israel, and make sure that the next time I encountered a similar situation, I would be prepared to face it head-on.” 

Onward Hillel allows Jewish students to build their resumes through a high-level internship while developing a strong personal connection to Israel. The program, organized by Hillels of Georgia and funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, is an 8-week metro Tel Aviv internship program. It places current college students in an authentic Israeli workplace based on their skills, interests, and future career goals. 

Read more about Talia’s experience with Onward Israel, her subsequent career growth, and the new perspectives she gained in Israel here. 

Second Round of Gap Year Scholarships are Sending Teens to Israel

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Global News, Jewish Journeys

JumpSpark’s Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship is helping to build a bridge between Atlanta and Israel. Last year, thanks to the generosity of Federation’s community, 25 Atlanta teens were able to live abroad in Israel for a year. The second cohort is about to embark on this incredible expedition, and this year, there are 28 of them.

The young adults who embark on this journey are recent high school graduates. They each receive a $10,000 grant provided by JumpSpark and the Zalik Foundation Fund. Students who commit to working for a partner organization in the summer after they complete this program receive an additional $5,000 service subsidy.

Many students in this program will continue their studies in Israel—they may take classes at Hebrew University in Jerusalem or elsewhere. This is an incredible opportunity to learn and explore the world before college. The Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarships allow young adults to experience an entirely new way of life and have experiences they would never get at home.

Our year one cohort returned to Atlanta in May. Here’s what two of our participants had to say about their experience:

“I am forever indebted to my gap year experience. I did not realize how much a break before entering my college/adult life would be beneficial. I am so much more confident in what I want to study and in myself. My Jewish identity has never been stronger, and I don’t have a question on whether or not I will keep those practices in my life.”

“As a Jew, my gap year provided me all the resources needed to explore different levels of observance while educating me on Israel’s history. This combination gave me a basis to find how I will choose to live my life as a Jew in America and on a college campus.”

This grant is the first of its kind. We are thrilled that so far, we have been able to support 53 teens in this program, and our number of interested teens continue to grow each year.

If you want to learn more about the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship, contact Susie Mackler at smackler@jewishatlanta.org.

Volunteering in and Exploring Mexico with Project TEN

By Jewish Journeys, NextGen Atlanta

By Amanda Budd
Last month, I had the pleasure of joining Hillels of Georgia in Mexico City for a trip with Project TEN. Project TEN is an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel. They allow participants to travel to any Project TEN center across the world to volunteer in and explore the local community—all while meeting Jews from around the globe.

Our meaningful days were spent with middle school-aged students in Santiago, Yancuitlalpan. We engaged them in various thinking games such as charades, memory matching, and human knots. We volunteered in a local community center where we met younger children participating in an after-school camp with Project TEN. As the students’ maestros, we organized games and arts and crafts focused on the solar system.

We traveled to see the pyramids of Teotihuacan and arrived in Bernal, Mexico, for the start of the Shabbat. In this picturesque town, we saw the Peña de Bernal; this small mountain is a spiritual center for the area’s indigenous people.

Following Shabbat, our group returned to Mexico City, where we enjoyed a tour of the Frida Kahlo Museum and a river tour in Xochimilco. Our last day featured a historical tour of Mexico City, where we saw the first synagogue in the city and the first Ashkenazi synagogue right next door.

At any given moment, our group spoke English, French, Spanish, and Hebrew, reinforcing the idea of a global Jewish identity. We arrived in the program as strangers and left connected by our love for Judaism and our shared experiences in this incredible country.

To learn more about Project TEN, please visit https://project-ten.online/

Plan Now to Take the Israel Trip of a Lifetime

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Global News, Jewish Journeys

It has been years since Atlanta traveled to Israel as one united community. Now plans are well underway for us to return together on Federation’s 2023 Community Journey to Israel, April 17-23.

Timed to coincide with Israel’s 75th birthday, this will be a journey of personal discovery and celebration. Customized your trip by choosing from eight exciting tracks, including exploring Israel through the outdoors, an engaging culinary experience, diving into modern Israeli technology, and a hands-on experience volunteering, just to name a few.

Here’s what people are saying about the trip:

“We are excited about everything — to be back in Israel, to be in Israel celebrating a milestone birthday, and to be there with our Atlanta community that we love so much. Trips like this are all about bringing people together and now more than ever we need to be together, to feel connected, and to celebrate! There is no place better to do that than Israel. We have so much to look forward to!”  Robin & Howard Sysler

“Time in Israel recharges our spiritual batteries as we savor the people and places that make us uniquely Jewish. This trip is confirmation that the Diaspora continues to look to Israel as our spiritual homeland while creating and strengthening bonds among existing and new Atlantan and Israeli-based friends and family.” Beth & Joel Arogeti

We promise, Israel will change you. This trip will be an inspirational, innovative, and educational dive into the heart of Innovation Nation. Whether you’ve been to Israel many times, or are a first-timer, this will be a transformational journey. Learn more and reserve your place now!

He Hadn’t Been to Israel Since His Bar Mitzvah. What a Journey!

By Atlanta Jewish Community, Global News, Jewish Journeys

Seventeen men have just returned from Federation’s Men’s Journey to Israel, and they have some stories to tell! On their ten-day adventure, they grappled with the many challenges, achievements, and miracles of life in modern day Israel. They also met with nine Israelis from Yokneam and Megiddo.  And, yes, there was plenty of male bonding!

Jerry Draluck, who had not been to Israel since his Bar Mitzvah 52 years ago, called the trip “one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”  He detailed the many ways the trip touched his soul: “We had in-depth discussions about life in Israel along with visiting historic sites. It helped me better understand modern Israel and what the future holds for citizens of Israel and for Jews around the world. The trip brought home all the reasons why it is so important for us to continue to support Israel with money and visits to the country. It is impossible to explain to an individual about the passion and love the Israelis have for their country.”

Howard Katz, who served on the Federation board and chairs Atlanta Jewish Foundation’s board said, “This was my first time in Israel but it will not be my last. If you have the opportunity to go on a Federation trip, do it!  It is time (and money) well spent!” Katz was especially moved that the trip ended with the observance Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and then Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). “Just about every Israeli knows someone who has been killed in battle or in support of Israel.  We observed it at a high school in Ber Sheva which had lost many of its students over the years. The ceremony was an unbelievable opportunity to feel the collective loss, support, and love for one another. This somber day led right into an amazing celebration of Israeli Independence Day, an almost Mardi Gras-like celebration. Prior to these holidays we did roughly four community visits or events every day. Highlights included a visit to an active archaeological dig, presentations by bereaved families, visits with folks from Yokneam and Megiddo, a site visit to the Sports Center for the Disabled, and IDF training.”

“The time in Israel opened my eyes to the plight of our people there (and elsewhere), reminded me about the politics surrounding the country, and deepened my pride at how our community thrives despite the constant threat.  It was amazing to be in a country comprised entirely of Jews (at least where we were) where you can speak freely about Jewish topics without looking over your shoulder. We learned so much, had such great experiences and built such strong bonds with one another that we are already planning our follow up missions together.”

Registration for Federation’s 2023 Community Journey to Israel is now open! It’s a tremendous opportunity to see modern Israel with our Atlanta Jewish community and celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday. Learn more here

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