For the past eight summers, my son celebrated his July birthday at camp in Michigan. No longer a camper he recently turned 18, once again away from home though in the Jewish Homeland as part of BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI). With over 80 high school students from the United States and Europe, “ILSI combines small group educational touring, leadership refinement training, hands-on community service and opportunities to interact with a wide spectrum of Israeli.” One of many BBYO summer trips to Israel, this three-week trip has been by all accounts amazingly awesome.
Reminiscent of my six-week summer trip between my freshman and sophomore years of college which laid the groundwork for my eventual work as a pro-Israel Jewish professional, I am heartened by the participation and enthusiasm. One obvious difference, however, relates to the parents’ viewpoint. Whereas in 1982 my parents waited weeks for letters and photos required post-trip development, I rely on instantaneous communications and photos posted online to BBYO’s Facebook page. Additionally, ILSI sends occasional email updates describing the trip’s activities.
The photo that really caught my attention did not include my son, at least as far as even I could tell. It arrived in an email with the subject matter “Celebrating B’Yachad in Israel.” And the body read, in part:
The Hebrew word b’yachad means “together,” and last night nearly 500 teens and staff traveling with BBYO came together for our annual B’Yachad celebration near Jerusalem.
We welcomed teens who journeyed to Israel with BBYO from Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. We celebrated our past, our present and our future alongside inspiring guest speakers and a festive party together.
Traveling to Israel is a dream shared with our ancestors for nearly 4,000 years. By joining us in Israel this summer, your teens are now part of an important tradition.
This year’s B’Yachad celebration was especially sweet as we marked BBYO’s 60th summer of organizing teen Israel experiences.
A couple of weeks before I visited Israel that summer of ‘82, Israel invaded Lebanon in response to repeated PLO provocations. I also visited Israel on multiple occasions during the Second Intifada. At none of those points, or any other times when Israel faced threats to its security, did I consider the possibility that my future, and then actual, children would not visit the Jewish State. But when I looked at this photo, in light of the recent Kotel Compromise and Conversion Bill controversies, I contemplated a future wherein these teens’ children might not follow suit.
While resolution of the disputes remains uncertain, and the potential for positive outcomes endure, controversies that belittle other branches of Judaism convey inhospitable signals with the potential to erode over time the bond now forming between the people of Israel, the Jewish State and these teens. A much larger discussion may include the often-discussed young American Jews with less emotional or political attachment to Israel than their parents. While very concerning, my immediate attention focuses on these 16 to 18-year old’s currently in Israel.
I know that visiting Israel for a week, a month or even a year does not equate to building a home in Eretz Yisrael. Still, the connection to Israel created by trips such as ILSI, as I can attest, benefits the teens, Israel and Judaism. I also know that Israelis may not care what American Jews think. My question is whether Israelis care what these teenagers feel? And if in 2052, my son’s children will take this same journey?