Monday, January 11, 2010

Birthright NEXT

I am sending you a link to an article by Al Levitt, president of the Jim Joseph Foundation and the new chairman of Birthright Israel NEXT.

Although his article does not speak directly to interfaith couples or the young people from interfaith families who participate in Birthright Israel, you and I know that those kids are signing up for this trip. I am more than thrilled to say that Birthright has a very open approach to who can participate. I’ve heard some complain that the program it too forceful in its positive message about Israel. I find that absurd. If you were sending your child to Italy would you want them to spend their time meeting people and seeing the sites, or getting a lecture about how lousy the Italians are? There is plenty of time and millions of people to rain on their parade once they get back home.

I love the trip. My concern was, what about when they come home? Is that the end? I saw my own daughter come back excited from the trip but, having gone with a group that originated from Los Angeles, she had no new Jewish connections locally. Then the San Francisco Birthright NEXT opened. I was delighted. It is still feeling its way and has some kinks to work out, but it’s here!

Birthright takes young adults age 18 to 26. Kids between 18 and 26 are doing some of the most significant brain growth of their lives. That means they are very different at age 19 or 20 than they are at 23 or 26. I had an interesting conversation with several young women who talked about the incredible amount of stratification that occurs at young adult events by age! So Birthright NEXT is biting off a big project.

I am highly invested in their success. What would help? I have two good ideas. One is, you let the young people do a lot of the decision making regarding events. That I believe in happening. Alums can make suggestions about what they would like to see take place.

The second thing they need is strong, experienced leadership. This they don’t have. They have several sweet young things doing their best. But let’s be realistic, they are being expected to run a major operation and they are in their 20s. I believe a better model is the one I am seeing unfold on my son’s Young Judea trip. Young Judea has a more experienced leader, a man in his late 30s, heading up the site. Under him are younger staff who relate to the teens. What does my 19 year old son think of the “old guy”? In his words, “I frickin’ love him!” I am hopeful that as NEXT builds it’s local staff they will get senior staff that has some seniority to offer. We have a bad habit of worshiping youth in this country. It has leaked over into our sense of who should be in charge. Young people want role models. Have you read the data out of Hillel? This generation is more attached to their parents (us) than we were to our parents. They want us in their lives. We need to be there. Not as managers, as consultants.

I am excited about the potential I see in Birthright NEXT. I am also proud to say that there are a number of amazing programs that young people in the bay area are starting on their own. I hope that Birthright will partner with them and they will all cross fertilize. I dream of a well publicized programs that attract that offer a wide range of activities for our next generation of diverse Jewish young adults.

I can only thank Al Levitt, the Jim Joseph Foundation and all connected with Birthright for putting their money where their mouth is! If we want young people to be Jewish, let’s be part of making that possible and meaningful!

I would love to hear about efforts to reach out to and support the engagement of young people – especially those from interfaith families - in your communities.