Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

TILC:  The first Israel Teen Tour of 2024

TILC at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem with "Love." Photo © T. Book
TILC in Jerusalem. © Photo T. Book, 2024

I recently finished guiding the “Teen Israel Leadership Council” (TILC) Israel mission.  This is an Israel trip, sponsored by the MetroWest Jewish Federation of New Jersey, unlike any other Israel trip.  I also believe that it is among the first teen Israel tours since the current Swords of Iron war broke out.  The mission was led by the indomitable Linda Scherzer, Director of the JCRC of the MetroWest Federation, and the logistics on the ground were smoothly organized by Routes Travel.  TILC is composed of American high school seniors from the New Jersey area.  It is a highly acclaimed two-year Israel advocacy course aimed at preparing the participants for what can be the anti-Israel battleground of some North American college campuses.

The applicants are carefully selected after a rigorous interview process. They come from many different backgrounds of religious affiliation, political beliefs, and schooling. There is a mix of Jewish day school, public and private school students. The common factor in this pluralistic group is the students’ love of Israel and desire to receive the knowledge and tools to be effective advocates for the Jewish State, especially on the college campuses.

Mark Twain is attributed with observing that, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  Arguably, the best education is through the school of experience.  One of the most effective ways of accumulating that experience is through travel, observation, and participation.  Leaving ones “bubble.” If anyone wants to try and grasp the Israel behind the often sensationalist headlines, one needs to experience it in all its glory and complexity and form one’s own opinion.  There is simply no other way to feel an attachment to one’s Jewish identity, as there is when one stands in Israel and touches the ground and meets the people.  There is nothing that one can do in one’s Diaspora classroom or synagogue thousands of miles away to give one a feeling for this land and for what this land means to the Jewish people, as well as all its inhabitants.  One must experience Israel to gain clarity for its achievements, as well as to understand the many issues Israel is wrestling with.

The advocacy training and instruction on the history of Zionism in the United States as preparation for the mission includes a whole plethora of different presenters ranging from Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists to college campus activists.  The culmination of the program is a weeklong mission to Israel for the seniors, where, in addition to touring and volunteering, the group gets to meet IDF soldiers, key journalists and thinkers, both Jewish and Arab, from across the religious and nationalistic spectrum. They are exposed to many different viewpoints.  The intense itinerary focuses on Israel as a modern dynamic society full of rich diversity and invites the participants to both grapple with the issues facing Israel and celebrate Israel’s achievements.   The TILC mission complements both the Jewish identity formation and Israel education of the participants. Ambassador Dr. Michael Oren observed that,

What we do on college campuses (regarding pro-Israel advocacy) is too late.  The process must begin in Junior High school.

This year, In the shadow of the ongoing terror war that Hamas terrorists unleashed on Israel and the IDF response, the mission was very different from other previous missions.  The emphasis was to go beyond the often sensationalist headlines and try to understand what is happening on the ground, to witness first-hand the resilience of Israelis, both on the military and the civilian fronts, and most importantly to be involved.  The participants were not just here to learn and take, but also to volunteer and give.  In fact, a core component of this year’s mission was the volunteering element.

TILC at the Shuva IDF rest stop by Gaza. Photo © T. Book, 2024

One evening we went with a wonderful group of volunteers from my hometown of Modiin, aptly named the “Mangalistim” (Barbeque Brigade), to the Gaza border to meet with serving soldiers, both regular and reserves, from the Givati Brigade (my old unit) serving in Gaza.  Many of the soldiers we had prepared the food for could not make it in person as they had been kept on duty inside the conflict zone.  We later learned that three of them were killed in action defending our homeland.  The soldiers we did meet with all shared with our group how proud they were to serve in such a moral and ethical army.  Hearing from the faces “beneath the helmet” deeply moved the students. Not only did it humanise these young defenders of our land, but it also broke stereotypes of the bloodthirsty Israeli soldier propagated on North American college campuses and throughout the world. One of the participants, Adam Levin, reflected on his meeting with the soldiers:

The most meaningful moment of the trip for me was spending time with the IDF soldiers at the army base. Hearing their stories was interesting, inspiring, and motivating. The fact that hundreds of thousands of reserves dropped everything in their lives to fight for Israel is truly amazing. Their unconditional love and will to fight for our homeland is unbelievable. Even four months into this devastating war, they all remain strong and determined with no sign of giving up.

Watching the Major tear up after talking about his men who had fallen added a layer of reality to the situation; kids our age sacrificing their lives so that the Jewish people will always have a place to call home in Israel. Unfortunately, we were not able to meet and spend time with the soldiers our age as they had to stay in Gaza, but this again puts everything in perspective. Taking all of this in at once made me look at my own life in a different manner and reshaped my values and goals for the future.

Another stereotype was shattered during our visit to “Save a Child’s Heart” (SACH) children’s home in Holon.  The Save a Child’s Heart organisation provides life-saving cardiac surgery and other lifesaving procedures for children of all faiths and backgrounds from developing countries and the Palestinian Authority free of charge, even during the current conflict.  In addition, SACH trains doctors to become peadiatric cardiologists in their countries of origin.  According to the mission statement on its website is,

An Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centers of competence in these countries. SACH is totally dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child’s nationality, religion, colour, gender or financial situation.

So much for “Apartheid Israel.” Our group came to volunteer at the recuperation center where the children and their parents, or caregivers, from developing countries are either preparing, or recuperating from, the surgery that will allow them to live normal lives. One of the participants, Ava Berman, observed:

I thought it was so meaningful getting to play with those children who are in scary situations, going through heart surgery in a different country, and bring them a little light. It made me so emotional as well, thinking about the alternative those children would have had if not for SACH bringing them to Israel.

 Many of the group were deeply moved and asked why there is so little awareness and appreciation in the outside world for all the good that Israel does for the world.  Daniel Gordis succinctly summed it up when he stated that, in addition to striving for the benefit our own citizens,

This country has become a country, with all of its imperfections, that sees as part of its purpose as looking out for other people.

TILC participants volunteering at SACH. Photo © T. Book, 2024

One of the most moving elements was the day we spent visiting the Gaza envelope.  We journeyed to Sderot and heard first-hand accounts of the terror and bravery of that awful October 7.  We then went to Kibbutz Kfar Azza and met with my friend Ralph Lewisohn, who, after making Aliyah from what is today Namibia decades ago, raised two generations on this former paradise.  After the visit of the participants, Kate Goldberg, reflected:

Seeing the destruction done to a once thriving and loved community and hearing the multitude of stories from the day really put into perspective how personal, traumatic, and recent these events were. I’ve seen and heard many pictures and anecdotes of the events of October 7th online but witnessing with my own eyes the aftermath combined with the sounds of the war in Gaza fifteen minutes away, I don’t think I will ever be able to forget how I felt.

After hearing Ralph’s moving first person account the participants were overwhelmed with a sense of disbelief at the evil of mankind, the slaughter of innocents, the evil hatred of the enemy, the apathy (and sometimes support and bitter antisemitism) of the world.  The major difference is that today we Jews are not weak and defenseless anymore.  We are strong.  We have a strong nation, people, and a powerful and just Israel Defense Forces.  We will win this war against evil together.

It was a fascinating trip for me personally to observe these bright teenagers who all self-selected into this program.  Despite their different backgrounds, religiously and politically, there was a tremendous atmosphere of mutual toleration and acceptance.  This was seen in all our settings, from ancient synagogues, to volunteering at Moshav Shekef for hard manual labour in the greenhouses, to attending a StandWithUs seminar, a debriefing with David Horowitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, a session with Khaled Abu Tomeh of the Jerusalem Post, and meeting Lone Soldiers at the Michael Levin Base in Jerusalem.

Agricultural volunteering at Moshav Shekef. Photo © T. Book, 2024

In addition, they learnt that Zionism is not a monolithic movement that brokers no argument.  Rather it is multi-faceted and dynamic, with factions on the left and right, religious and secular, and is a living movement whose uniting link is love for Israel. The “Teen Israel Leadership Council” participants will be able to take with them to the university campus the magic of their visit to Israel and the three rules for advocacy; knowledge, gained through both learning and first-hand experience, passion, and delivery.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:
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