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.