Nishant Saini

Strengthening our Childrens’ Jewish Connection with Jewish Travel Tours

US Jewry is undergoing major cultural changes and some are even talking in terms of a Jewish identity crisis in America. It’s increasingly vital to give our children a strong connection to their Jewish heritage and culture. An amazing way to do that is through Jewish travel.

What’s Happening with US Jews?

Since the end of World War Two, US Jews have been one of the most successful – if not the most successful – segment of American society. As the US emerged victorious from WW2, society was transformed and anti-Semitism sharply declined. Jews took advantage of new opportunities in academia, in business and the professions, and in the entertainment world. The community thrived and claimed its share of the American Dream.

In the 1950s just 3% of American Jews married non-Jewish spouses. According to the respected Pew Research Center 61% of married Jews are now intermarried. If the endogamous Orthodox Jews are excluded from the figures, 72% of married American Jews currently have a non-Jewish spouse.

Going as far back as the 1950’s, there have been occasional public panics about the Jewish community being entirely absorbed into mainstream America, and effectively disappearing. It is more accurate to say that the US Jewish communities are evolving. Social change is inevitable, and in free societies, it is usually rapid. Jews have experienced plenty of social change and adaptation over the last few thousand years. Often, they embraced change – or even drove it.

What’s vital is that as change occurs, the most important aspects of Jewish identity are bequeathed intact to Jewish children. They will make their own choices about what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, but they should be informed and positive choices. The choices they make should come from a position of knowledge, self-respect, personal security and a quiet pride in millenia of precious Jewish culture and heritage. More than that, they need to be aware that there will always be those who hold their heritage against them, and view them as enemies.

US Jews, Jewish Culture and Israel

In the aftermath of World War Two, the overwhelming evil and human devastation of the Holocaust weighed heavily on American Jews. Victory over the Nazis was bitter sweet and far more complex than the simple realities that most Americans experienced in 1945. As Israel established itself as the Jewish state, and won its astonishing victory in 1967, US Jews were inspired. The Israelis were showing the world, through events like the Entebbe hostage rescue, that there was a new breed of tough Jewish fighters.

US Jewish support and solidarity with Israel was strong and widespread. There was a powerful connection with the Jewish state and an estimated 112,000 American Jews made aliyah to Israel. Around half a million Israelis now have US family connections. US support for Israel always fluctuated, but in recent years it has declined considerably. Jewish travel tours to Israel help to maintain the connection, a group of younger Jews feel alienated and separated from Israel.

Among Jews in the US. 37% of US Jews, especially the younger generation, there has been a steady drift away from the previous pillars of Jewish identity. Religious observance, commitment to the community and support for Israel have all declined. Perhaps most worryingly, there is no longer a deep appreciation and knowledge of Jewish heritage, history and cultural traditions. In the past even secular Jews still generally valued (or at least knew) the living treasure that is Jewish culture and thought.

Even after the terrible massacre of October 7th, the agonies of the injured and bereaved, and the heart-rending images of hostages and their families, there are some Jews although a minority, that  are still disconnected from the embattled Israeli people. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion of the Israeli government, and nobody is obliged to support the war in Gaza, but it is a tragedy when US Jews don’t feel connected enough with their brothers and sisters in Israel on a deeper level. It is also a tragedy when they lose their personal connection to thousands of years of heritage and history.

Igniting the Jewish Soul through Jewish Travel Tours

Perhaps the most precious gift that we can give to our children and grandchildren is to connect them to their Jewish heritage. It’s not a question of imposing religious or philosophical ideas on them, or indoctrinating them into any political mindset. The goal is simply to expose them to their rich Jewish history and heritage and to learn about our forefathers and the land where the bible stories took place. In addition also the  geniuses, polymaths and leaders as diverse as Einstein, Marcel Proust, Maimonides, Rashi, Spinoza, Esther, King Solomon, King David, Rabbi Akiva, Herzl and hundreds more.

It’s vitally important for every human being to have a developed sense of self. That includes an understanding of where our ancestors came from, how they lived and thought, where they studied, worked and prayed, and what they achieved. Jewish travel and Jewish travel tours can ignite the Jewish soul and capture the imagination of a child or teen in a way that no classroom learning or creative media ever can.

The alternative is to become a kind of cultural orphan, cast adrift from the collective Jewish whole. Jewish travel, especially in the form of a customized Jewish travel tour can literally allow participants to walk in their ancestors’ footsteps. They can also explore wondrous historical and archaeological sites and experience a sense of awe at visiting places that were sacred to a hundred generations of Jews.

Jewish Travel to Israel

DNA testing has demonstrated conclusively that Jews originated in the area that now includes the modern State of Israel. If you’re Jewish, the chances are that your ancestors lived in one of the ancient kingdoms of Israel. It was a journey of thousands of years from the land of the bible to New York, Florida, or LA, but the return journey involves no more than a transatlantic flight.

As soon as kids step off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport, they are immersed in the experience of exploring a modern Jewish state. Israel is a small country with a high tech economy and a Western infrastructure, but the past is everywhere. When you travel with a professional tour guide, history comes to life. The port of Jaffa next to Tel Aviv has been continually inhabited for around 4,000 years. Jerusalem was possibly first settled 5,000 years ago. Every building, street and stone has a story to tell about Jewish history and heritage.

American Jewish youth are sometimes ambivalent about a trip to Israel, but they tend to be captivated when they visit the Wailing Wall for the first time and witness the emotion that it inspires. A guided tour of the winding cobbled streets of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is like a trip back in time. A visit to Yad Vashem is a sobering – and usually difficult – experience. But it gives kids a rounded perspective on what it means to be Jewish, and why the state of Israel is a modern miracle.

Customized Jewish travel tours can also include visits to the North and to the Desert. Tiberias and Safed are important Jewish mystical sites, as well as being wonderful places to wander and explore. As you drive through Israel – perhaps on a jeep tour –  kids will see how Jewish farmers and forestry workers have transformed the landscape, preserving and even reintroducing biblical flora and fauna. Being Jewish also means being a custodian and a guardian of the land.

Israel After October 7th

If you take your kids on a Jewish heritage trip to Israel this year offered by Gil Travel , there may be opportunities to volunteer on an Israeli farm or kibbutz. It’s a unique chance to help out, and to meet Israelis who were impacted by the terrible events of October 7th. More than anything, face to face encounters and personal conversations with these brave and resilient people will shape a young person’s concept of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.

What Other Countries Host Jewish Travel Tours?

Pretty much every country that has, or once had, a Jewish community can become a destination for customized Jewish travel tours. Obviously, countries like Iran and Afghanistan are currently off limits (despite their rich historical Jewish connections). Popular Jewish travel destinations include South America, where countries like Argentina and Brazil have centuries old Jewish communities with a rich culture and architecture.

Europe is an enormously popular destination for US Jews who want to explore their family roots and (hopefully) see the actual homes that their ancestors lived in. Before the Holocaust, Poland had a large and vibrant Jewish community and cities like Krakow, Lodz and Warsaw attract Jewish tourists who want to connect with their family roots.

The great European cities of Prague, Budapest and Berlin also welcome Jewish tourists and offer an experience that contains the same mix of poignancy, sadness and – often – a feeling of peace and homecoming. It’s important for American Jewish kids to get a glimpse, and hopefully some insights, into the lost world of ghettos and Jewish quarters (or even upscale Jewish neighborhoods) that their ancestors lived in. It’s also vital that they see how utterly that world collapsed, and where the trains to the camps departed.

Create a Family Trip with Tailored Jewish Travel Tours

Gil Travel has decades of experience and a wide network of contacts across the world. They will help you to create a tailored trip to the country of your choice, with an itinerary that will satisfy every age group and interest. Jewish travel is a wonderful adventure and a great way for people of every age to connect with their family history and Jewish heritage. The opportunity to explore Jewish culture through travel, or to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah in Israel is a truly formative experience for a young person!

Written in collaboration with Iris Hami, President of Gil Travel Group, the largest travel management firm sending people to Israel.

About the Author
Nishant Saini is a writter, blogger, and social media promoter. He loves coffee and traveling.
Related Topics
Related Posts