After Birthright Next, What's Next?

Published: 
May 20, 2015

Source: The Jewish Week

 

Gary Rosenblatt writes about two new programs for returned Birthright Israel participants that are seeking to fill the vacuum caused by the closing of Birthright NEXT, which had been created to translate the participants’ enthusiasm for Israel into involvement in Jewish life back home. One Table, is based on the success Birthright Next had for several years in helping to sponsor Friday night Shabbat meals for Birthright alumni. Another innovative program, Bring Israel Home , offers a weekend retreat with fellow Birthrighters from their group of 40 bus mates, plus the Israeli participants, to those groups who complete 100 points of Jewish activity in the three months following their trip.

 

The newest project, called One Table, is based on the success Birthright Next had for several years in helping to sponsor Friday night Shabbat meals for Birthright alumni. Many thousands attended these evenings around the country. One Table now has been launched in New York, with funding from the Paul Singer Foundation and philanthropist and Birthright founder Michael Steinhardt.

 

As an online and in-person hub, One Table helps people in their 20s and 30s find, enjoy and share Shabbat dinners to make the most of their Friday night and enjoy the best of life together. They make it easy for hosts to welcome people to a Shabbat dinner at home, for guests to savor a Friday meal and for all to experience unique events for Shabbat dinner out. There’s nothing better than a great dinner with people you love.

 

One Table goes easy on the ritual. Challah and wine are popular components, as are candles. But when it comes to reciting the appropriate blessings associated with each, that depends on the hosts, the guests, and their being at ease with each other. Hosts and guests are recruited, and apply online. Hosts are screened in advance and coached to create a welcoming environment by the One Table team. That may include tips on how to mix drinks, set an appealing dinner table — ideally for eight to 10 guests — and calibrate the level of Shabbat customs.

 

Though it began last summer in experimental form, One Table is now ramping up its programming in NY, with about 300 dinners under its belt, and plans to expand to other cities, starting with Chicago. It’s all about making Friday night special, with the hope that the project, and the habit, will grow and lead to other forms of Jewish engagement.

 

Another innovative program, Bring Israel Home, is geared specifically to Birthright participants, starting with a challenge to them on the bus while they are still in Israel.

 

In researching how best to motivate Birthright participants, Aish Hatorah of NY, in consultation with Birthright Next and other Birthright trip providers, determined that top-down programs and incentives often meet resistance. What the young people wanted most was to stay in touch with each other after their return from Israel.

 

To earn a weekend retreat with fellow Birthrighters from their group of 40 bus mates, plus the Israeli participants — IDF soldiers who accompanied them for part of the Israel visit — flown in for the reunion, at least 30 of the 40 participants have to complete “100 points of Jewish activity in the three months following their trip. Points are awarded based on the nature of the activity in the categories of Jewish education, Jewish experiences, Shabbat and holidays, and Israel, so the young people can choose for themselves. Options include 20 points for attending a weekend Hillel retreat, 15 points for hosting a Shabbat meal (with One Table, by the way), down to under 10 points for cooking an Israeli food, taking a Hebrew class or interviewing a Holocaust survivor. The participants go online and log in proof of their activities.

 

An upcoming mega-retreat, the project’s most ambitious to date, will host 11 different Birthright groups, with 60 IDF soldiers being flown in to participate at a camp site in rural Pennsylvania.

 

The program, funded in part by the Paul Singer Foundation, has generated enthusiasm among those seeking ways to engage young Jews. Perhaps the most unusual pairing was having the Union for Reform Judaism sign up with Aish Hatorah.

 

Read the entire article at The Jewish Week.

Updated: May. 27, 2015
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