I have responsibilities back in the States (let’s call him Benjamin). My wife has responsibilities in Israel (let’s not call her Benjamin). I spend most of the year in the USA; my wife in Israel. We have two homes, one in Haifa and one in Florida. We fly back and forth a lot. It is an interesting life.
My son comes to Israel with me practically every summer. He plans on making Aliyah after High School. My stepdaughter has never been to the USA. This year, my wife and I decided that we would bring her daughter to Israel over Sukkot as a Bat Mitzvah present. We brought my nephew as well. He had a bar mitzvah and was in need of a present. Trust me when I tell you that traveling with two teens is much easier than traveling with one. Try entertaining a teenager all by yourself. It is exhausting.
Since their mother/aunt married an American Israeli, they have the right to visit the USA. I call it Birthright in reverse. We have been planning this reverse Birthright trip for a couple of years. It is not easy finding time outside of the summer when both kids are free to visit the States. There was no way I was bringing the teens to Florida in the summer. I live in Orlando, Florida and coming to my home means coming to Disney World. Everybody who comes to visit me ends up in Disney. Having been to Disney what seems like a million times, I am a certified expert. I can tell you that you would have to be a complete idiot to visit Disney World in July or August. I can also tell you that there is no shortage of complete idiots in the world. Disney is packed full of tourists standing in long lines in the hottest most humid magical place known to mankind.
That leaves Passover or Sukkot to bring school aged children to the States. I refuse to leave Israel during Passover. I can buy kosher for Passover pizza in Israel. In the USA I am stuck with matzah and salami every day.
Sukkot is a perfect time to go to Disney. It is still ridiculously hot and humid. But there aren’t lines. All the tourists have returned back home so that their children can go to their special needs schools. Disney is empty during Sukkot except for childless couples and secular Israelis.
My stepdaughter and nephew have been crazy excited to come to the States. I have brought my children to Israel many times and I never remember them being half as excited as these kids were to come to Orlando. I have a lot of experience bringing teens to Orlando. Orlando has a partnership with Kiryat Motzkin and I helped organize a number of visits of Israelis to Orlando and vice versa. I can tell you that in general Israeli teens are much more excited about coming to Orlando than American teens are to visit Israel.
It is all marketing. To Israeli teens, there is nothing cooler than America.
The USA is marketed through movies and television all over Israel all hours of the day. The USA is shown as a place with incredible wealth and culture. There are rappers and movie stars. There is Times Square, Las Vegas, Hollywood and so much more. There is incredible natural beauty from the Rocky Mountains to the Grand Canyon to Niagara Falls.
What does Israel have to compete with all of that? A really old wall.
Which place would you choose to visit?
But talk to the teens after they come home. Talk to teens who visited Israel and teens who visited the USA. Teens who visit the USA will tell you how cool everything was; the big houses and the big cars and the big people. Teens who visit Israel will tell you something else entirely. They will tell you how they have been changed.
Israel changes people. Disney calls itself the Magic Kingdom but Israel has the real magic. Magic Mountain in Disney is a roller coaster. Magic Mountain in Israel is Mount Zion. Jerusalem is the home of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is where David established our magic kingdom. Jerusalem is where the light of Torah illuminated the world with the idea of the sanctity of human life and the spirit that we can succeed in our mutual struggle against nature to make the world a better place for all. Israel is a miraculous country that Jews built in the middle of deserts and swamps to be a leader in technology and human rights all while being surrounded by enemies sworn to murder us. Israel is far from a perfect country. But you have to force yourself to be blind to deny the miracle.
The excitement of the roller coaster lasts a few minutes. The spiritual awakening that you experience when visiting Israel lasts a lifetime.
My nephew and stepdaughter had a great time visiting Florida. They came back with fun experiences and suitcases full of gifts that cost half what they would have cost in Israel.
Teens who return to the states from Israel come back with much more. Their suitcases may not be stuffed with cheap clothes, but their souls will be overflowing. If you have teens living outside of Israel, encourage them to visit their homeland. Go on a birthright trip and extend it. Spend their gap year studying in Israel. There are so many wonderful programs for teens in Israel. It will change them. It will help them grow. You will thank me.