In 1999, a small group of American college students boarded the first Taglit-Birthright bus in Israel. Today they are part of a network of 500,000 young Jewish adult alumni that have experienced the gift of Birthright.
Washington’s own Rachel Cohen Gerrol was on that first bus. Today she serves as a board member of the Birthright Israel Foundation. She staffed the first Jewish Federation of Greater Washington Birthright Alumni Leadership Mission, in which I participated. The next annual delegation of Washingtonian alumni of Taglit-Birthright will be heading back to Israel this fall (October 24 – November 1).
DC is a very international city. You can’t get lost in Dupont Circle without accidentally walking by an embassy. But DC offers far more than visiting an international territory and sovereign land of another nation just at these embassies. It offers more than scrolling through Expedia or Hotline before booking a flight from BWI or IAD to head overseas. Many organizations provide opportunities to travel the world and many are some of our community’s best kept secrets.
I hope every Jewish young professional between 18-26 reading this blog strongly considers applying to attend Taglit-Birthright, but what you may not know is that your options are only getting started with Taglit when it comes to seeing the world and servicing it through your own flavor of tikkun olam.
The headquarters of Peace Corps are down at 19th Street and L Street NW. According to peacecorps.gov, “as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you work directly with communities on their most pressing issues while gaining a competitive advantage in today’s global economy with international experience, cross-cultural understanding, and fluency in a foreign language.” The length of service is two years and if you are considering applying to volunteer with the Peace Corps, you should start the process about nine months before your target date to head abroad.
So if Taglit is 10 days in Israel and Peace Corps is two years, what is in between and what other opportunities are available to you as a young Jewish Washingtonian reading Gather the Jews?
JDC honorary executive vice president Ralph I. Goldman famously said many years ago that “there is a single Jewish world: intertwined, interconnected.” So, what is in-between? JDC Entwine is one of the hidden gems that is in-between.
Programs are designed for 20 and 30 somethings. You can participate in a Global Jewish Service Corps for 4-8 weeks or one year or shorter Insider Trips for Young Professionals. The 2016 program schedule will be made public soon. And the application period for the next one year service program will also be open soon.
2015 shorter programs included India (Jan 18-27), Morocco (Feb 8-16), Turkey (Mar 1-8), the Philippines (Apr 26 – May 4), Greece & Bulgaria (Jun 21-29), Georgia (Jun 28 – Jul 5), Argentina (Aug 2-9), Rwanda (Aug 30 – Sept 8), Cuba (Sept 3-7 / Sept 17-21), Sarajevo (Sept 30 – Oct 7), Morocco (Oct 7-15), Ethiopia (Oct 11-20), India (Oct 18-26), China (Fall 2015), and Argentina & Uruguay (Dec 6-14).
Today, JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps fellows are servicing the needs of local communities in Argentina, China, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, Haiti, India, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Rwanda, Turkey, and Ukraine.
We share a common history. We share a common religion. We share common traditions. We may identify in different ways – secular, reform, orthodox, modern-orthodox, Lubavitch, etc – or we may be Ashkenazi or Sephardic, but we are intertwined and interconnected.
Jewish young professionals in America may be Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or other.
Jewish young professionals in America may be tall or short. Probably short.
Jewish young professionals in America may have different views about Israel’s leaders and the policies of the Israeli government.
Some may stay kosher and others perhaps enjoy a BBQ bacon cheeseburger at Five Guys (or Shake Shack).
But all are Jewish and all are welcome to apply to JDC’s programs.
On July 20, JDC Entwine’s East Coast Director Jen Berman was in town for an event with the most creative name of anything I’ve seen in awhile at the Hillel International office in Chinatown. “From Shtetl to Selfie” highlighted the work of JDC in Eastern Europe and provided an updated on the crisis in Ukraine. It was one of a series of opportunities that JDC Entwine will be delivering to Russian speaking Jews based on their work and partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group.
“Until I discovered JDC Entwine, I wasn’t involved in the Washington, DC Jewish community. Through JDC Entwine, my Judaism has once again become a central part of my life. Learning about JDC’s international work, and making friends through Entwine with a diverse group of young Jews in my local community and around the world, makes me excited and proud of my Jewish heritage,” said Jessica Nysenbaum, co-chair of the JDC Entwine network in DC.
If you are looking for a different kind of service opportunity or a different kind of way to head back to Israel, JNFuture just began to promote an innovative program this winter. While your office may be closed and other families are celebrating Christmas (and some of your friends may be partying like it is 1999), you can be volunteering in southern Israel. From December 26, 2015, to January 3, 2016, the JNFuture Volunteer Vacation to Israel is taking place.
JNF is advertising this trip as “an incredible opportunity to volunteer in Israel and do something you would not do on an ordinary trip. Join JNFuture and other Jewish young adults, ages 25-35, for a week of community service in Southern Israel and connect to the land and people of Israel in a meaningful way.”
The trip is free to attend, but will require participants to fundraise or friend-raise $1,800 to participate.
Masa Israel Journey offers over 200 study, internship, and volunteer opportunities all over Israel lasting between five and twelve months for young Jewish professionals between 18-30.
An August 4, 2015, Times of Israel story said “Masa is now shooting for an annual 20,000 participation figure.”
In a recent “You Should Know” column in the Washington Jewish Week, DC’s Tami Wolf, described how “After grad school, she wanted to work in museum education, but her life and career took a different turn when she participated in the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program. She lived in Netanya for 10 months, extending the trip to study at a Jerusalem yeshiva.”
Wolf said, “There are no words for Masa, at least for my Masa experience. It is one thing to visit a place, and it’s another thing to really get the chance to live there and become a part of the community and get to know the kids in school and about their lives and their families.”
With 200 programs you could basically find any kind of program that would best meet your interests.
Germany Close Up – American Jews Meet Modern Germany is a youth encounter program for Jewish North American students and young professionals. The program was established in October 2007 and is currently administered by Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste e.V. (Action Reconciliation Service for Peace) in cooperation with the New Synagogue Berlin – Centrum Judaicum Foundation.
Germany Close Up has been a popular program from a number of DC young professionals and friends. I’m personally planning to attend one – hopefully in 2016. It is funded by a grant from the German Government’s Transatlantic Program to “encourage German-Jewish-North American dialogue as well as to strengthen the involvement of the North American Jewish community in transatlantic relations.”
JDC Entwine had such demand for its Cuba trip in 2015 that they opted to hold two. Another opportunity to visit Cuba to learn about the Cuban Jewish community and support the Cuban Jewish community comes with B’nai B’rith International. The 172 year young organization has an upcoming delegation planned for December 12-20.
The B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief Project has been building personal connections in Cuba for nearly 20 years. Leaving from the Miami airport, the delegation will visit and support the Jewish communities in Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara, and Havana.
Additional private travel and private Jewish travel programs are also widely available and can be found on the Google and through many synagogues.