On Sunday, September 21, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati held its first Israel HERE meeting, for high school students who used a grant to travel to Israel this past summer. The Israel Travel Grants program, funded by The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and administered by the Jewish Federation, is the most generous program in the world. A total of up to $11,500 is available to Cincinnatians age 16–26, for two trips to Israel. Since 2000, the Jewish Foundation has sent over 1,800 young adults to Israel.
To maximize their trip experiences, Cincinnati teens who travel during 10th, 11th, or 12th grade participate in pre- and post-trip programs. At the September 21 meeting, held at the Mayerson JCC, the travelers met the Jewish Federation’s Israeli emissaries, including the new schlicha, Maia Morag, and this year’s chaverim m’Israel (friends from Israel), Tal Meydan and Natan Garfinkle. The three facilitate the Israel HERE sessions, along with Federation professionals Sharon Spiegel and Karyn Zimerman.
“We were excited to meet a great group of teenagers full of interesting and positive perceptions of Israel,” said Morag. “When asked to describe their views of Israel, they used words such as: fun, holy, multi-faceted, progressive, innovative, and lots of amazing!”
The Israel HERE program, which consists of two pre-trip and up to six post-trip meetings, was established in 2010 as part of the agreement grant recipients make to give back to the community through service. Through the program, the students learn more about Jewish Cincinnati and participate in social action projects that benefit the community, while also processing their trip experiences and strengthening their connections with Israel. Additionally, they have the opportunity to form new friendships with their local peers.
As part of Israel HERE, students and their parents were able to take participate in sessions with The David Project, a national organization that helps students advocate for Israel, which was brought to Cincinnati by the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The 2014 travelers were in Israel during a time of conflict and so gained a unique—and often difficult—perspective on Israeli life. The David Project helped them see the complexities involved in talking about Israel, use their experiences to relate to their peers, and positively tell their stories to family and friends.
Future Israel HERE sessions include social action projects, meetings with local Jewish agencies, and experiences to help the students forge stronger connections with Israel and each other.