Normalizing Travel to Israel

The majority of Jews in America have not been to Israel. For most American Jews Israel is not considered a natural destination for tourism, family visits or pilgrimage.

This reality is a major source of frustration for Israelis and lovers of Zion around the world. It is well documented and a proven fact: Israel travel programs are highly successful and effective. We have learned from numerous studies that young people who visit Israel are invigorated, and that the impact of the visit could last a long time and lead them to a more active Jewish life. So the main problem is not in the trip itself, but rather, in the motivation and the communal attitude toward the notion of travel to Israel.

We are now witnessing an impressive rebound. Youth travel, birthright Israel (the partnership between philanthropists, communities and the State of Israel for free travel to Israel), synagogue trips and other initiatives all have brought the numbers back and there is a possibility for breaking new records in the summer of 2006. More significantly, the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel launched MASA/Israel Journey, a large scale initiative that encourages young adults to spend semester to year long programs in Israel.

It is our challenge to make the various Israel experiences more normative, more desirable and more accessible to those who have difficulties getting there. We have a great window of opportunity for building bridges and strengthening the sense of Jewish peoplehood among the next generation. Let us hope that in the future we will be able to begin a report with the sentence, “The majority of American Jews have been to Israel.” – Elan Ezrachi

Elan Ezrachi is the Executive Director of MASA‹Israel Journey, the gateway to longterm Israel programs.