April 16, 2024
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NCSY South Florida Philanthropist Spearheads Campaign to Send Public School Students to Israel

Fundraising by Mike Leven, other donors, will enable 44 public school teens to experience life-changing trip to Israel this summer.

(Courtesy of NCSY) Four years ago, Mike Leven of Boca Raton had never heard of NCSY or its Israel summer program, the Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ). A few weeks ago, the Palm Beach County philanthropist hosted a fundraising event at his home, where he culminated a $150,000 campaign to send a busload of 44 South Florida Jewish public school teens to Israel this summer.

“I was inspired when I learned that NCSY runs over 300 Jewish Student Union (JSU) clubs for Jewish teens in North American public schools,” said Leven. “Many public school students have never attended Jewish summer camps or gone to Israel and I want to enable as many Southern Florida teens to go on TJJ as possible.” JSUs are NCSY’s Jewish culture clubs in public schools across the United States.

Added Leven, “Youngsters need to be equipped to combat anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses and you can’t really appreciate Israel’s history, culture, honesty and consistency as the sole democracy in the Middle East, unless you’ve been there.”

Leven and his wife Andrea hosted the fundraiser at their home, with presentations by former TJJ participants who recounted their transformative experiences. The four-week program takes high school students on an immersive journey exploring their Jewish heritage and Israel through exhilarating hikes, eye-opening tours, meaningful volunteer opportunities and a memorable group Shabbat, among other life-changing adventures. In attendance were many of the Leven’s closest friends and neighbors, including Bernie Marcus.

Leven embarked on the campaign in June, when he and Marcus, founder of Home Depot and head of the Marcus Foundation, were honorees at the 2021 NCSY National Gala for their unwavering commitment to the Jewish future. The Marcus Foundation’s flagship RootOne program is providing TJJ participants and thousands of other North American Jewish teens with $3,000 vouchers to make the trips more affordable, in addition to enhanced educational resources.

“TJJ is the fastest growing summer program in South Florida for Jewish teens,” said Avi Warman, director of Southern TJJ Experience. “The ability to take kids out of the classroom and actually live the experiences of Judaism and Israel is invaluable.”

TJJ participants are largely active in NCSY’s JSU clubs throughout North America, and the majority have never been to Israel before. Last year, 88 teens attended TJJ through Southern NCSY, which represents the U.S. southeast (other than Atlanta).

“Mike has been one of our champion supporters,” said Evan Levitt, Southern NCSY’s vice president of special projects and planned giving. “This trip is a quantum leap when it comes to building Jewish identities. The Jewish Federation conducted a study a few years ago in Palm Beach County and found that only 1,500 of the 7,000 Jewish teens were inclined to do anything Jewish. That inspired Mike and other philanthropists to take action. This trip ensures that there are going to be future leaders involved in the Jewish future. Mike has made that possible.”

For 17-year-old Hailey, a high school senior in Parkland, Florida, TJJ not only gave her an appreciation for the beauty of Judaism and Israel, it also armed her with the confidence to fight misinformation on campus.

“If more of my Jewish peers had access to all the information I now know about because of TJJ, how many hate crimes could we stop?” asked Hailey, who is president of her school’s JSU. “How many people across the world could we get to open their eyes?”

TJJ, she added, “filled me with memories and information I get to share with my friends and community, and one day when I have children of my own, I will teach them about our home—Israel.”

And that’s exactly what Leven hopes future TJJ participants will do—transmit their love of Israel and the Jewish people to the next generation.

“If there is any way we can influence the Jewish youth of today to be involved with the Jewish people, I think it is important to do so,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing my work as long as I can.”

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