MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Summer 2011
Fifty+ Years In Israel: Ramah & USY Going Strong
While, for the past couple of years, a major focus of the Conservative Movement has been on the 60th anniversaries of our youth programs – Camp Ramah and USY – attention should also be paid to the 50+ years that both organizations have been running successful programs in Israel.
Founded in 1947 with a single camp site in rural Wisconsin, today, Camp Ramah comprises a summer camp network with a dozen different summer day- and overnight-camp programs. But while Ramah's primary focus for the past 60+ years has been on North America, for nearly 50 years, Ramah has been building an extensive network in Israel.
Leading its Israel programs has been Ramah Israel Seminar, a six-week study tour for 16-17 year olds. Set up in 1962, "Seminar" was a pioneer in integrating field trips with Israel studies. Today, Seminar also offers an optional pre-Israel 8-day tour of Poland to learn about Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust.
This summer, Ramah Seminar is offering several innovations, including Tel Aviv special interest days, encounters with Arab-Israeli youth in Haifa, Jewish leadership development and a neighborhood clean-up together with the Society for the Protection of Nature.
While Seminar will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, Ramah's high school semester program is nearly 30 years old. Founded in 1983, TRY (Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim) brings students to Israel for a full 4-month semester, providing necessary academic classes with in-depth Hebrew ulpan, Israel studies and field trips. And for the past 10 years since combining its forces, Conservative Jewish youth have had the choice of studying in Israel in fully accredited programs, either for two months with USY HIGH, or a full semester with TRY.
USY (United Synagogue Youth), established in 1951, was actually the first to start an Israel program when, in 1956 with 12 participants, it organized the first USY Israel Pilgrimage. Since then, thousands of 10th to 12th graders have traveled to Israel on one of the largest single youth programs of its kind.
Starting with the classic six-week Israel Pilgrimage, USY has worked over the years to develop different program options in Israel. For example, since the early 1980's, at least one group each summer has participated in a Gadna (paramilitary) program. Now, in the summer of 2011, USY Israel pilgrimage is launching its "L'Takayn Olam" program, a four-week Israel experience, which focuses on helping others through various community service projects.
USY was also a pioneer in offering summer trips that combine travel in Israel with places in Europe. Back in the late 1960's and early 70's, USY'ers traveled to Iron Curtain countries en route to Israel, with the primary goal of visiting "refuseniks". After a hiatus of a dozen years due to political and security concerns, USY restarted the trips with its "Israel Pilgrimage Poland Seminar" program in 1986, followed four years later with a new "Eastern Europe Israel" program.
Both summer programs continue to this day and include at least 50% of the participants in USY Israel Pilgrimage programs. At the same time, USY has also been experimenting with tours in other European countries, such as England, Spain and Italy.
In 1980, USY launched "Nativ", the Conservative Movement's post-high school "gap year" program. For the past 30 years, USY alumni have benefited from a high quality program which lasts for nine months, combining studies in Jerusalem with community service in Israel's periphery. What began with 19 participants had in 2010-2011 more than 90 young adults!
Since the Program began, the fall semester has taken place in Jerusalem. Nativers have three study options: Hebrew University, the Conservative Yeshiva and, for the past three years, a coordinated Hebrew ulpan and community service program. During the second semester, the group leaves Jerusalem, either for life and work on a kibbutz or in a development town. And a new "Nativ-Gesher" is being marketed which would combine academic studies with service in Masorti communities in Europe.
As Janet Tobin, MERCAZ USA President notes, "As we salute USY and Ramah for their 50+ years of successful Israel programming, we are proud of the role that MERCAZ has had in contributing to the success of these programs. As a consequence of our representation in the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency, and the role that gives us in shaping policy and determining budgets, we have not only been able to play a key role in making Israel programs the top priority of these institutions today, but have also been able to ensure that our youngsters benefit from funding and facilities to which they would otherwise not have access.
"As with so many of the other benefits accruing to various branches of our movement around the world, what we are able to obtain from the WZO and JAFI is a function of the clout we have, which in turn is a result of the size of our membership and representation at the Zionist Congress. It should be encouraging for all to know that MERCAZ membership facilitates the kind of Israel experience critical to our children's Jewish education, the strength of our movement and the future of the Jewish state."
For more information about Ramah Israel Seminar and TRY/USY High, go to www.ramah.org.il or call (212) 678-8881. For USY Programs, call 212-533-7800 or go to www.usy.org/escape for Pilgrimage and www.nativ.org for NATIV.
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