June 25, 2024
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OU Summer Programs in Israel Continue

Orthodox Union summer pro­grams in Israel continue to adjust their itineraries and sites to accom­modate changing safety concerns and providing security updates as warranted. Programs currently re­porting amendments include YU’s Counterpoint Israel, Anne Samson TJJ Ambassadors, NCSY, Kollel, BILT, GIVE, ICE Israel, Euro ICE, JOLT and Yachad.

“Our main concern is the safe­ty and best interest of the partici­pants,” said Mayer Fertig, Chief Com­munications Officer for the OU. “We are being guided by the Israeli gov­ernment through direct communi­cations with the Cheder Matzav (sit­uation room), and we are following their advice and going a step be­yond.”

College students in Israel with the Counterpoint Israel program, an immersive service-learning initiative of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), were original­ly scheduled to run camps in Kiry­at Gat and Kiryat Malachi from June 29–July 10 before relocating to Di­mona and Arad for the second ses­sion, scheduled for July 13–24. The YU students were working up until Monday, July 7th, in two locations in southern Israel: Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi. As sirens sounded in that re­gion, they moved back to Jerusalem that day.

Counterpoint volunteers help empower underprivileged youth throughout Israel, and undergradu­ates run two separate camp sessions in Arad, Dimona, Kiryat Gat and Kir­yat Malachi concurrently focusing on two cities at a time. Teaneck resi­dent and second-time Counterpoint participant Rebecca Kleiner, a stu­dent at Stern College and alumna of Ma’ayanot High School, describes her experience as positive, both in terms of content and security: “It’s clear that security comes first. They have adapted different sites and lo­cations but the camp is running the same.” And for Kleiner, the tremen­dous impact this program has is well worth any modifications in plans. “Counterpoint allows volunteers to provide these kids with exposure to a broad array of unusual activities as well as teaching English, includ­ing juggling, break dancing, baking, and music that allow them to delve into what they’re good at. We share in some kids’ getting the first chance in their lives to shine. It’s an incredi­ble experience.”

NCSY has moved hundreds of program participants in Israel to the North in order to make sure that safety is the first priority as these stu­dents experience the diverse sum­mer programming offered by the OU and NCSY, and has delayed and altered some of their flights and even changed destination from Isra­el to other sites.

Anne Samson TJJ (The Jerusa­lem Journey), consisting of 450 pub­lic school teens, was scheduled to head off to Israel when their depar­ture date was initially postponed. It was ultimately decided to sub­stitute a trip to the West Coast. “We are excited and enthusiastic despite this change,” said Fertig. “The pro­gram will be different, but it will be an amazing experience. And the vast majority of the kids are still planning to attend and are raring to go.” Par­ents and participants on these pro­grams seem to agree.

The NCSY Summer Kollel, an in­tensive learning program for high school boys, had just begun as hos­tilities began. It was moved from its home in Beit Meir, approximately nine miles from Jerusalem, to Chis­pin in the north. The 157 boys, in­cluding about 20 from Bergen Coun­ty, have reportedly been doing very well, even in the face of significant logistical challenges and alterations to their original itinerary.

Unique to the kollel’s experience this year was an organization of the rapid production of 1,000 kosher tz­itzis for soldiers who wished to mo­bilize wearing this mitzva, reported Rabbi Tanchum Cohen, one of the kollel’s rabbeim who is also the assis­tant rabbi at Bergenfield’s Congrega­tion Beth Abraham. A friend brought the raw materials to Chispin and, “for several hours the beis midrash has been filled with a dozen of our Beth Abraham boys together with 150 of their closest friends, all hard at work tying tziztis strings onto about 200 pairs of Tzahal-approved bega­dim and subsequently pairing their handiwork with a note of friend­ship and gratitude addressed to the chayyal who will wear it,” Cohen wrote in an email to congregants.

Anne Samson TJJ Ambassa­ dors, with 40 public school teens who have al­ready been in Israel on a leadership program for about two weeks, began in Jerusalem but moved to the North as soon as rocket activity began. As with all programs currently in Israel, their activity has been limited to the Galil and Golan regions.

The BILT (Boys Israel Leadership Train­ing) program, a leadership and touring program of 40 boys, has been in Israel for about nine days mostly staying in Chis­pin. The nature of the program is such that even in the seemingly likely event that the program must remain in the North indef­initely, sufficient activities remain avail­able. GIVE (Girls Israel Volunteer Experi­ence), a chesed (benevolence) and touring program of 80 girls have been in Israel for 10 days and as with the TJJ Ambassadors, GIVE is nearing the end of the hiking/ touring activities that are available in the North, and have performed fewer chesed accomplishments than originally planned. According to the NCSY security update, there is a possibility that their trip may be cut short.

ICE Israel, which is a co-ed travel pro­gram for teens looking to see the entire country, has been in Israel for five days. The program is currently staying in Sevyo­nei Hagalil. There is a week and a half of programming available to ICE Israel in the North. The 40 teens on ICE Euro have been in Greece for nearly a week. They are ex­pected to travel to Israel, but given the un­certainty related to travel into and out of Israel at this time, programmers decided to arrange for the Euro ICE participants to stay longer in Italy before moving on to Is­rael. Possibilities include moving onto the Israel portion of the trip or extending the group’s stay in Europe until approximate­ly August 7th.

JOLT (Jewish Overseas Leadership Train­ing) has 40 teens on a leadership trip who have been in Poland for nearly a week. They move on to Austria next week followed by Germany, and are due to travel to Israel the following week. The feasibility of the Isra­el portion of the JOLT trip is expected to be evaluated closer to the departure date.

In the Yachad division, the Yad B’Yad program, with two groups comprising more than 185 typical high-schoolers, Yachad members with disabilities, and staff were to have flown to Israel with de­partures Sunday July 20th and Sunday July 27th. Departure to Israel was delayed for one group. Parents were informed that al­ternative trips to the West Coast would be offered instead of travelling to Israel. Vir­tually all the participants decided to travel to the West Coast. In addition, three Israel Free Spirit-Birthright trips are currently in Israel and the next departure is not sched­uled until August 6.

Overall program participants seem committed to experiencing Israel and con­tinuing with their current plans despite the current security situation.

By Lisa Matkowsky

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