A Pivotal Program for a Pivotal Moment!

Posted on 04/21/2023 @ 06:00 AM

Tags: Teen Education & Engagement, IsraelNow

Eighth grade is a pivotal moment in time for young people. Maybe you remember it?
Your interests, activities, and friendships are changing and evolving.
You’ve finished the big milestone of Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but you aren’t yet eligible for the many wonderful programs available to students in high school like High School in IsraelMarch of the LivingDiller Teen Fellows, Youth Groups, etc…
You’ve just been told you are an adult according to Judaism, but honestly, you know that you aren’t an adult, because you’re still in middle school.
That’s why 8th grade is such an important time to ensure Jewish teens build a long-lasting connection to their heritage.
After the last demographic study of Miami in 2014, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation asked CAJE to convene a Post Bar/Bat Mitzvah Task Force to address what could be done to prevent the well-known dropping out phenomenon that occurs among teens.
One strategy that CAJE undertook was to create a JTeenMiami Website to compile our community’s rich menu of programs and resources for teens and their families, making opportunities easier to access.
If you or someone you know has children in middle or high school, tell them to check out this website: JTEENMIAMI.ORG
At the same time, Federation fortunately received a generous donation from local philanthropists to underwrite an additional strategy-- sending 8th graders to Israel through the IsraelNow Program.
Created in Chicago, IsraelNow is an immersive travel experience for eighth graders who are not enrolled in a Jewish day school (because many day schools take their middle schools students on trips to Israel).
IsraelNow has a proven record of success in getting teens to fall in love with Israel and then become active participants in community programs upon their return.

Because of CAJE’s expertise in running teen programs, Federation turned to CAJE to run IsraelNow.
Last year, CAJE ran a pilot of the program with 10 teens and found it to be very sound educationally.
This year, with the help of education directors and colleagues around Miami, we recruited nearly a full bus of participants, who visited Israel over Spring Break.
One of the things that makes IsraelNow so impactful is how focused it is on giving students many sensory experiences to see, hear, taste, and touch all that Israel has to offer in a very intentional manner.
Students participated in an urban music experience in the heart of Tel Avivexplored Jerusalem’s Old Cityand heard stories on Mt. Herzl about the brave men and women who gave their lives on behalf of the Jewish State.
Of course, many teens loved when they rode camels as part of a Bedouin hospitality experience and then following that, hiked to reach the top of Masada, where they were able to capture a lasting memory of their incredibly scenic view of the Judean desert and the Dead Sea.

Students also enjoyed some truly unique experiences – dining at a restaurant where the servers were hearing-impaired so our students could learn how Israel embraces diversity and visiting Yad L’Kashish, a place that provides work opportunities for the elderly around Jerusalem, where they participated in a Tikkun Olam project. 
Another highlight of the program occurred when the IsraelNow Miami participants spent time with their peers from Yerucham, Miami’s partnership city.
Together, they learned about their differences as Israelis and Americans as well as their similarities as Jewish teens, all while building connections with one another. 
While they were meeting Israelis, our Miami participants were also bonding as a group and made a commitment to each other and to themselves to become more involved with Jewish life as they enter high school next year. 

“IsraelNow was a moving experience for me. Going to the Land of Israel was a truly necessary and fulfilling trip. I now feel more compelled to take part in Jewish activities and be more active in my synagogue.”
- Samuel Bussel-Alonso
“Thank you for letting me have the chance to come to this amazing place. IsraelNow was absolutely spectacular! I learned so much about Israel and am now part of a new group of friends.”
- Amit Larea

The mission of IsraelNow is to inspire and nurture a connection with Israel and other Jewish teens that leads to more community involvement, creating a stronger Jewish future.
Whether an 8th grader is already rooted in the Jewish community or looking to get more involved, we welcome them on our week-long, immersive and adventure-filled trip to Israel

Applications for the 2024 Spring Break trip will open in the Summer.
If you know a rising 8th grader, who does not attend a Jewish Day School, share this information with them.
For more information about IsraelNow, please contact Claudine Ackerman at ClaudineAckerman@caje-miami.org.