Look at the old photo below from our community paper. What do you see? Now, enlarge the image. Look at these enthusiastic faces. Do you recognize any of them? Share with your friends, perhaps they recognize them. We would like to reconnect with these youth, who are now in their mid-30s.
Why exactly do we want to find these youngsters at this time? 1996 was a tough year for Israel and the Jewish world. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated just months before. A series of deadly terror attacks shook the country. Heated general elections were held and a new government was formed under a young Benjamin Netanyahu. This turmoil deterred many families from sending their teens to Israel. Our Israel Program Center worked hard to continue with its summer teen trip. Eventually we were able to send a small but dedicated group to Israel. We told their parents: "There is never a better time to go to Israel. This is your opportunity. Your teens’ Jewish identities will be shaped forever. It's time 4 Israel."
I was there with them and I have been carrying this picture with me all these years. Seeing their smiling faces upon landing in Israel, watching them hold the flag tight and feeling proud I cannot help but view this photo as a symbol of the power of the "Israel experience." It is also a proof of our determination not to give up on any opportunity to connect with Israel, in spite of the ongoing challenges we are facing. This is why we would like to reconnect with these youngsters. To learn where they are and what they remember from their teen travel in 1996. To ask them to share their experiences with the teens of 2015.
Now that Birthright eligibility has been extended to youngsters who visited Israel as teens, we are re-launching our GMW community teen trip this summer. We are approaching the teens and their parents and will tell them: "There has never a better time to go to Israel. This is your opportunity. Come with us. It's time 4 Israel. We are subsidizing our first 20 registrants with extra scholarships, up to $2,000 each. We still have a few slots. Please register now. Perhaps 20 years from now we will be looking for you to ask what it felt like and ask you to help recruit the next generation."