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A Summer of Opportunity

Jews from all over the world, including Israel, at a Birthright event in Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

The streets of Israel are looking drastically different than they did a year ago. Markets, beaches, and restaurants are bustling with people every day. Trains and buses are packed to the brim with travelers from around the world. Cities are flooded with fresh faces of those who have been anxiously waiting to visit this beloved country.

For nearly two years, foreigners were barred from entering Israel’s borders. As the Covid-19 pandemic ran rampant worldwide, Israel took immense measures to try to protect its citizens, implementing country-wide lockdowns, mask mandates, “green passes”, and border closures. As a result of these drastic restrictions, Jews around the world were prohibited from seeing their relatives or visiting the country that had always welcomed them with open arms.

Now, over two years following the onset of the pandemic, the borders to Israel have finally re-opened, and nothing can stop the thousands of tourists from pouring in.

While some locals moan about the crowds, I am truly ecstatic to finally see so many foreigners, especially young Diaspora Jews, experiencing this special country once again. Whether they are returning visitors or first-timers, the joy of these travelers as they eat classic Israeli dishes, bargain with shop owners, enjoy the Tel Aviv nightlife, or tour ancient sites is unmistakable.

The amount of young Jews that have arrived in Israel this summer is quite remarkable. After a two-year hiatus, programs for Diaspora Jewish youth have reopened, bringing in students and young adults at an explosive rate, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. Since May, hundreds of Birthright participants have already come and gone, and hundreds more are expected to visit in the coming months. Additionally, internship and other career development programs, such as Onward Israel and Masa, are absolutely thriving, with thousands of college students arriving to work in various companies and organizations throughout the country.

These internship programs are especially attractive to college students and young professionals who are early on in their careers. The programs offer hands-on experience in a wide array of industries, including medicine, high-tech, fine arts, environment and sustainability, business, government, and many more. In the United States, specifically, it is fairly challenging for college students or recent graduates to find well-paying, full-time jobs. Oftentimes, employers are seeking candidates with an unrealistic amount of work experience for entry level positions. Jemima Mowlem, who came to Israel this summer on an internship program, explains, “It seems increasingly difficult to grab the attention of employers when seeking an internship and getting your foot in the door.” Thus, programs in Israel give these young individuals the opportunity to work in real companies, allowing them to gain practical experience, acquire important skills, and build their resumes, which will set them up for the next step in their careers. In many cases, students choose to stay in Israel even after their program ends, taking on full-time positions in the companies in which they have interned.

Moreover, these programs are highly subsidized, thanks to assistance from the Israeli government and generous donors. Participants are provided with accommodations in Israel’s biggest cities, such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. Health insurance coverage, transportation, and in some cases monthly food stipends, are also provided, in order to ensure that anyone who wants to participate on a program is able to, regardless of financial situations.

Aside from the practical work experience that participants take away, these programs prove to be invaluable for the Jewish community, as a whole. In a world in which Antisemitic incidents are occurring at an alarming rate, BDS is infiltrating university campuses and communities, and young Diaspora Jews are becoming increasingly disengaged in Israel, these programs – Birthright, Onward, Masa – allow this up-and-coming generation of Jewish leaders to develop a better understanding, connection, and appreciation for the Jewish state and people. Moreover, they are given the tools and resources to become ambassadors within their home communities and to combat the hatred and discrimination that they may return to on their college campuses. “My internship in Israel has not only provided me with industry specific skills, but also a safe space to explore Jewish identity, both of which will remain with me throughout my life.” Jemima reflected.

It is more important now more than ever that we continue to offer opportunities and experiences for young Diaspora Jewry to connect with and treasure this special place.

So, even though the streets of Israel are swarming with people and the crowds are sometimes unmanageable, I am confident that these important visitors are vital to the well-being, strength, and survival of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

About the Author
Since 1982, Jeff Seidel has introduced thousands of Jewish college students to their first Shabbat experience as well as offered free tours and classes through his Jewish Student Centers at Hebrew U in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, and IDC in Herzliya. He has lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for over thirty years and connected tens of thousands to the Land of Israel. He has also authored “The Jewish Traveler's Resource Guide,” which lists Shabbat placement programs around the world.

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