Last group leaves for Israel…and welcome Sarah

February 17, 2012 by Joshua Cole
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The final group of this summer’s Taglit Birthright Israel program left Australia last week for Israel, completing one of the most successful years of the Australian Israel short term experience.

David Glass, Olga Lynn, Ryan Lewy and Rabbi Daniel Rabin stop their hike at Ein Gedi during the December Taglit Birthright Israel trip - a Zionist Federation of Australia and Chabad on Campus partnership

In total this season, there were 200 registered Birthright participants utilising five bus tours – compared with 120 during the 2010-11 summer. Birthright is a free 10-day tour of Israel, introducing young adults to Israel and their relationship to it as young Jews.

In mid-January, 82 participants ended the 5-week Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) Academy, an increase from 68 in 2010-11.

The ZFA partners with Taglit-Birthright and AUJS.

The participation increase for Academy and Birthright is in tune with the increased participation on long-term Israel programs, such as the year-long Shnat or other long term programs through MASA Israel Journey which take similarly aged young adults to Israel.

“It’s pretty exciting that so many young adults are interested in learning about and immersing themselves in Israeli culture and history,” said ZFA President Philip Chester. “These programs not only strengthen Zionism and support for Israel in our community, they also expose our young community to an eclectic mix of opinions, backgrounds and people.”

Academy is the flagship AUJS program that’s been around for 50 years; it is a five-week touring and volunteering program, generally designed for school leavers or students in their early years at university…a cornerstone program of the Australian Jewish community.

“It was the most amazing experience with a group of people that came together: To travel around Israel, to see Israel in depth, just to have a great time and enjoy the program and enjoy seeing the country,” said Jonathan Ruben, 18, a participant on Academy.

Although Jonathan graduated last year from a Jewish school, and played soccer for Maccabi, he had been passive towards Israel.

“In the past I wouldn’t argue if somebody else said something about Israel or if I saw something anti-Semitic, but now I feel an obligation to defend the Jewish people; you feel you need to defend your country,” Jonathan said. “That comes from my experience in Israel and my maturity. Hearing personal anecdotes from people around the country has changed my attitudes about what’s going on. In the newspapers, you don’t get that full perspective.”

Birthright is the free 10-day peer-educational tour of Israel facilitated between Taglit Birthright Israel and local community partners, which in Australia is the ZFA. It’s designed for participants 18-26 who haven’t been to Israel on an organised tour.

Rabbi Daniel Rabin was the madrich in December for a bus that the ZFA partnered with Chabad on Campus.

“The participants got a political appreciation of the country and a deeper connection to their religious side,” Rabbi Rabin said. “They got to see Israeli soldiers, and they saw that these kids are just like them, that they are just young guys who want to protect their country.”

Sarah Myerowitz

Rabbi Rabin said that the optimism, positive attitude and interest during the tour was universal among all participants, despite few of them being friends before the trip and despite them coming with different purposes and backgrounds.

“You had a very big range of different backgrounds, personalities and universities. They came from Jewish schools, non-Jewish schools; traditional or not,” Rabin said. “They got to experience all aspects of the country in such a short time. They got the agricultural side, and they went all the way to the North. The excitement is still very strong, and the enthusiasm is definitely very alive.”

ZFA has welcomed its new Israel Programs Director Sarah Myerowitz. She brings more than 10 years’ experience working with young adults to her new role as Israel Programs Director of the ZFA. In this role, Sarah will oversee dozens of programs with more than 500 young adults who plan to visit Israel on organised programs, including Taglit-Birthright and long-term programs from MASA.

Before coming to the ZFA, Sarah was the Hillel Director at the Shalom Institute, in Sydney. She earned her Master of Arts in Jewish Communal Service from Gratz College, in Pennsylvania, USA, and a BA/BS from the University of Pittsburgh. Sarah moved to Australia from the United States about 4 years ago.

“I am very excited to continue my career working in the Jewish community with the ZFA,” Sarah said. “Because I’m very passionate about doing my part to make the Jewish community a more vibrant and engaged place.”

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