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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 16, 2013 By Gary Rosenblatt / Common sense suggests that one of the most effective ways of heightening Jewish identity and Israel engage- ment among young people is through summer teen trips to the Jewish state. The younger our kids are exposed to the miracles and challenges of Israel today, the better, and longer, their connection. And the more involved they and their families will be. But the reality is that sum- mer travel programs to Israel fop teens are "languishing," according to experts in the field, who cite the .fact that the numbers have decreased dramatically from 2000, when about 20,000 American teens visited Israel as participants in organized programs to about half that number today. They cite as factors the eco- nomic slowdown of the last five years, security concerns and the sameness over the years of many of the existing programs. But the primary reason for the decline cited by tour providers and other professionals--though they are loath to discuss it public- ly--is, ironically, Birthright Israel, the most creativ. and successful effort to promote Israel engagement among young people. Indeed, the very success of the free 10-day trips for 18-to-26-year-old diaspora Jews seems to have had the unfortunate ripple effect of discouraging families from sending their children on pricey summer teen pro- grams. "Why shouldwe spend several thousand dollars to send our children to Israel now," parents reason, "when we can wait a few years and send them on Birthright for free?" Reinforcing the concern that Birthright's success is hurting teen trips is the fact that participation in such programs precludes eligibility for Birthright, which is aimed at those who have not been on group trips. (The precipitous decline in the number of participants in summer teen programs coincides with Birthright's history, which began in 2000, when the teen trips had their highest numbers. It also overlaps with the second intifa'da, though, which was a major factor in" reduced travel to Israel.) Mission impossible? But any criticism, even implicit, of funding Birthright to the exclusion of other Israel engagement efforts, is considered unwise, -if not political suicide, because the project is so heavily backed by the communityls biggest and most influential philanthro- pists as well as the Jerusalem government. So what, if anything, can be done to boost awareness and support for teen programs, particularly among founda- tions and Jewish leaders? A small but influential group of funders and activists, meeting through the Jewish Funders Network, has been exploring the issue in the last few months, hoping to double the number of high school students traveling to Israel. I attended such a meeting here last week with about 20 lay and professional experts whose common goat was to raise awareness and fund- ing for these teen summer programs. The discussion was thoughtful and focused, and the participants knew the field well. There was no bitterness expressed toward Birthright. Rather, there was recognition and gratitude that the program's success has opened up other opportuni- ties for innov, ation, spurring ways to engage young people on Israel and their own Jewish connections. "Birthright made Israel cool," one participant ob- served."It'sviewedasaquality rite ofpassage.'.She said itwas time to emulate the organiza- tion's inventiveness. The group agreed that the cost of the summer programs clearly was an important issue for families, but not necessarily the issue. In fact, it was said that some funds set aside in communities for teen programs in Israel go unspent. One idea that sparked animated discus- sion centered on the premise that young people and their parents are keenly interested in educational opportunities that strengthen a student's academic profile in applying to college. The consensus was that the opportunity for teefis to take a science, medicine or technology course during the summer at an Israeli univer- sity would make a summer program highly appealing. Some felt there was a viable market for a for-profit enter- prise offering college-prep programs in Israel. "It's less about focusing on Israel per se," someone offered, "and more about convincing par- ents to invest in their kids, and answering the teen who asks, 'What's in it for me?'" The group also agreed that their target audience should be young people who would be most affected by a summer experience in Israel, meaning those not already actively in- volvedin Jewishlife. Andthere was virtual consensus that the ideal length of these summer programs is three weeks. Less time then that is too short to warrant the expense, and lon- ger programs limit choices for teens interested in more than orie summer experience. One idea being floated by Scott Shay, a local business- man and lay leader who co- chaired last week's session, is based on extending the concept of a free trip to Israel. He has proposed giving young people an Israel travel voucher on their 16th birthday to be used until the age of 25 for any combination of the many Israel programs available dur- ing the high school or college years, or after. PAGE 5A Others would like to see Birthright ease its restriction on those who have been to Israel on teen trips, perhaps having them serve as assis- tant counselors on the free 10-day visit. Marilynn Rothstei n, direc- tor of alumni programs and board development for the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which offers extended programs during the academic year for students from the United States and other coun- tries, co-chaired last week's meeting. Her father, Stephen Muss, has expressed frustra- tion Over the ongoing lack of support from major funding sources, including the Israeli government, for LAPID--the Coalition for High School Age Programs in Israel, which he chairs. He says support for teen programs should be ''a no brainer" because "Jewish iden- tity development is strongest during the high school years" and that is when students de- cide where to apply for college, which in turn impacts on their degree of Jewish identity and religious" commitment. Rothstein, more diplo -' Rosenblatt on page 15A By Alan Eisner in Israel's history, hawkish leaders have often ended up advocating tough conces- sions for the sake of peace. Think Menachem Begin at Camp David, Yitzhak RaiSin and the Oslo Accords and Ariel Sharon who at the end of his career found himself mulling a withdrawal from the West Bank. Add Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizmann to the list-- militaryheroes both of whom came to see that Israel's future could only be assured through peace agreements with its neighbors. And let's not forget President Shimon Peres, who for much of his career ws a tough guy, until reality taught him otherwise. Is it too fanciful to believe that Prime Minister Benja- min Netanyahu might add his name to that catalog by In peace talks, watch what Bibi does signing a far-reaching peace agreement with the Pales- tinians? It remains to be seen, but there are some signs that Netanyahu is thinking along those lines. First was his po- litically courageous decision to agree to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners convict- ed of violence and terrorism a part of a deal to return to peace talks. Releasing prison- ers is never popular in Israel, for understandable reasons, but Netanyahu argued that it was in the nation's national security interests and pushed it through his center-right cabinet. It's also notable that Netan- yahu has been speaking about peace with the Palestinians differently, in recent weeks than he has in the past, argu- ing thatwithdrawing from the West Bank and allowing the establishment of a Palestin- Jan state is the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish homeland. "If we go into direct ne- gotiations, it is likely tobe very hard but the alternative of a binational state is one we do not want," he told a Knesset committee recently, appropriating a talking point that has been more generally associated with the political left and the"peace camp" than the ultra-nationalist right. The distinguished Israeli political scientist Shiomo Avineri has observed that Is- raeli hawks can be divided into two broad camps: fdeologues who put maximum emphasis on Israeli .control of territory, particularly if it is identified with the biblical land of Israel, and strategists or pragmatists who are willing to consider withdrawals from territory if they deem them strategically advantageous or necessary. Netanyahu is probably more of a strategist than aaa ideologue. As Amotz Asa-El recently wrote in The Jerusa- lem Post: "Netanyahu indeed shares with the messianic right a lot less than many realize. A secular rationalist, he does not mystify soil and does not see borders as articles of faith." Since last January's elec- tion, Netanyahu has been an increasingly lonely figure in his own Likud Party, virtu'- ally the only member of its parliamentary faction who still believes in two states. In internal party elections last month, Likud chose hardlin- ers who want to annex most of the West Bank to key leader- ship positions, spurning the views of their supposed leader. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, an outspoken opponent of the two-state solution, became chairman of the party's Central Commit- tee while another hardliner, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, took over the Likud bu- reau, which defines party ide- ology. Days later, Netanyahu abruptly canceled an address to the party convention. Imagine how it would look in America ifa political leader refused.to show up at his own party convention. Sooner or later, if the peace talks go anywhere, Netanyahu is going to face a choice be- tween a party that no longer believes in him and a country, which according to opinion polls, still regards him as its best possible leader. Netanyahu still has many options. Even as his own party has moved disastrously to the extreme right, the country has moved to the cnter. Last January's election altered the balance within the Knesset so that a clear majority now supports a two-state solution. If necessary, Netanyahu could put himself at the head of a broad, pro-peace coalition thatwould have the votes nec- essary to approve a peace deal. Up to now, Netanyahu has been viewed mainly as a wily and intensely practical lead- er-but not as a visionary or a risk-taker. He talks tough-- but tends to be meastired in his actions. He maneuvers for short-term advantage alad puts off difficult decisions until later. But sooner or later in any politician's career, there comes a defining moment when history beckons and the time for prevarication runs out. For Netanyahu, that mo- ment may be coming soon. And what he does may sur- prise us. Alan Eisner is vice presi- dent for communicaiions for J Street. By Marni Mandell If a whistle sounds in a crowded space where every- body can't help butto hear it, does it matter? What about dozens of whistles? Yesterday, for over an hour, I stood behind barricadeswith Women of the Wall, guarded by police, from my people. Our people. People (haredim) who are absolutely certain that our female voices, and our prayers, said out Ioudfor the world to hear in "their" place, are designed to be the lownfall of our religion. Having elected to wear "modest" clothing this morn- ing, I threw on a floor length long black maxi skirt at 5am, ran out of my apartment in Tel Aviv ,nd sped to Jeru- salem, determined to stand together arid pray in solidar- ity with Women of the Wall. However, my attempts to get to the women were thwarted twie - first by the police Whistles at the Wall who were preventing people frown entering the plaza from above due to the "situation." Next, after circumnavigating the corridors of the Old City to another entrance, I at- tempted to join the group of women who were entering the plaza together surrounded by guards for protection. However, police who mistook my respectful dress code for attempting to infiltrate the Women of the Wall, stopped me again and would not let me pass without some "proof" (i.e. tailit or tefillin) of my affiliation with the Women of the Wall. It took additional women who came along with their tallit and tefillin and vouched for me (women who didn't even know me), to be allowed entrance to the other side. 'Ironically, by choosing to respect the sanctity of the place by my dress code, I had specifically caused confusion to the police and guards for potentially being an ira- poster to the larger cause. And yet, my skirt and lack of religious paraphernalia is exactly the reason that I was so completely unbelievable in a black and white society misunderstood not only by the Haredim with whistles, but also by the general Israeli society who sits relatively idly by as Judaism is co-opted in the public sphere by the most extremist views. As I stood in the plaza be- ing inundated by the whistles shrieking from the lips.of the Haredi protesters for over an hour, I began to understand this dilemma not as one of a place or tolerance or even acceptance, but rather one of fear. What about our prayers causes them to fear our pres- ence so much? Are the fences they place around "their" Judaism so fragile that our mere voices and prayers are enough to rip them to shreds? Many years ago, as young 20-somethings, my best friends and I would spend Shabbatot and chagim with a wise Haredi rabbi in New Jersey. After I left to study Talmud in Israel for a year at Pardes, I ran into him at a conference where we were both recruiting students for our respective programs. Even while his own daugh- ters were not permitted (nor interested - I asked them) in learning Talmud, he lis- tened to me and we had an interesting discussion on my favorite section in San Hedrin. I will never forget his words to me at the end of our conversation, which I appreciate now more than ever. He said, "Marni, I believe that we are both in pursuit of the truth." Perhaps from one Haredi rabbi to the others about the Women ofthe Wall... "we are both in pursuit of the truth." Let us respect each other and act accordingly. Dry Bones THE MIOEAST POLITICALCARTOONSCOM DRYBONES.COM ..