A guest blog by Daphna Yizrael, youth shlicha, Legow Family Israel Program Center
When I was chosen to be a shlicha (emissary), one of the first things the members of the committee asked me was whether I'd be comfortable living in New Jersey. "You know," I was told, “there aren't a lot of people your age in MetroWest. It’s suburban and very family-oriented. How would you feel in such an environment?”
I told them that on the one hand I was pretty sure that I would be able to find friends (regardless of their age), but on the other hand my real passion in life is working with young adults.
I’m a strong believer in the importance of this age group. It's the time when you decide who you are. You make important choices that sometimes are different than what your parents planned for you; you become financially independent, you choose your career and your partner in life (or one of your dozens of potential partners in life). It is also the age when you decide how Judaism fits into your life.
No wonder that most of the big social revolutions in the world have been led by people of this age — it’s when your passion and sense of justice emerge. It might have started to grow and develop when you were a teenager, but when it meets your professional self you're able to fully embrace it and effect change. The average age of the chalutzim, the pioneers of Zionism, was 21 when they left their homes and came to Israel to build a new life. Their great-grand children were not too much older when this summer they started what we call “the tent protest” for social justice reform in Israel.
Obviously, I’m not the only one who understands the importance of this age group. Birthright Israel, the famous 10-day life-changing Israel experience, chose to focus on young people ages 18-26. The Jewish Agency for Israel had the same understanding when it created its new strategic plan.
Getting back to MetroWest, one of the things that I did when I first came here was to look for the young adults. Guess what? They are everywhere! They are people who recently graduated college or grad school and moved back home to others who have made MetroWest their new home.
I found amazing Jewish social groups like Jersey Tribe and Moishe House in Hoboken that attract many of these people. We have been partnering with them in Israel activities such as an at-home Shabbat Israeli dinner or a Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) party for 20-somethings. And then there are the Birthright alumni: MetroWest runs three community buses every year and virtually everyone who meets the requirements gets a seat, instead of being waitlisted for a national bus. Participants make new friends in New Jersey, right where they are living.
Until now, we have offered these alumni and other participants in our programs the opportunity to deepen their connections with Israel and MetroWest by becoming counselors in our Kefiada and Cherkassy summer camp programs, but these are very limited in space. We knew we had to create more opportunities.
This year, we are launching two new programs. The first is MWG4-MetroWest Generation Four, a young leadership seminar taking place in Israel this March. The program will bring together 17 young adults from New Jersey, Israel, and Ukraine. The participants will meet the most inspiring young adult groups, organizations, and leaders: the Ayalim students’ village in Ofakim; the secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv; Urban Kibbutz in Sderot; Youth Futures trustees in Horfeish; the leaders of the “tent protest”; and more. The participants will return to their communities in the United States with the commitment to bring this spirit with them and to create a change.
The second program is Onward Israel Yalla (Come on!)–MetroWest Negev Fellowship, a four-week summer program for young adults who are interested in a second meaningful experience in Israel. The Negev Fellowship will enable them to build their resume through internships, study, and service learning. Fellows will learn about development strategies and their impact from diverse perspectives like business, health, transportation, education, energy, technology, civil rights, ecology, and politics.
This exciting program is a partnership between the Jewish Agency, UJC MetroWest, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. It is part of a new initiative of the Jewish agency to create short-term Israel opportunities within a convenient budget. The dates are June 4-July 4, 2012, and registration is open for young adults ages 18-30. The registration deadline is April 16, so hurry up! Space is limited. For more information and an application visit www.ujcnj.org/israel or just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.