I am not a Young Judaean – but it does raise questions

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 December 2010 07:20 Written by bryfy Friday, 5 February 2010 02:09

I am not a Young Judaean – but I am a supporter of the great work YJ does and I think that the (long term) Israel experience is one of the most vital programs that the Jewish community should be investing in. That is why the news of the last week and months has been troubling for me – even as a relative outsider.

A quick summary:

  • Young Judaea, largely because of its strong connections to Hadassah, has been hit hard by the global economic recession and the Madoff scandal. These financial conditions have forced/prodded/allowed Young Judaea to look at how it can restructure itself moving forward.
  • In recent weeks and months there have been several high profile resignations from senior YJ staff, as well as several YJ staff having their jobs cut.
  • Early this week, Keith Berman, former head of YJ long term Israel programs, established his own long term Israel program – Aardvark Israel

Let me just say much of what has happened has not been pretty – as is evidenced by some of the articles, blog posts and comments that have appeared in recent days. Here is a small sampling:

Key staff resignations at Young Judaea and Hadassah

Former Young Judaea head launches rival year program

Young Judaea head blasts predecessor for launching program day after quitting

Aadvark Israel is launched: What does it mean? (comments are essential reading)

But I don’t want to get into these discussions – even though I do have may questions about what has taken place and how it all got to this stage.

I do want to use this opportunity to ask some more macro questions that I think this recent series of events has brought to our attention – and should be asked of many Jewish organizations and the Jewish community at large. It is my belief that if we don’t find ways to adequately answer these questions then the Jewish community will face even more challenges in the future.

1. Have we created a series of positive Jewish experiences that are so expensive that one can only participate in if they have the resources to do so? Or put another way – are we creating a Jewish people that only caters to the wealthy among us? (One of the reasons for the establishment of Aadvark Israel, by its organizers, is that it costs only $15,000)

2. With the emphasis on immersive Jewish experiences, what attention, if any, is being paid to preparing and following up with participants? Surely better prepared participants returning to some sort of system or network will be influenced more than those who are dropped off and picked up at airports.

3. At what point is competition beneficial, in that it challenges us all to offer cost-effective quality programming, as compared to collaboration that allows us to share resources, cut overhead costs and play nice with one another?

4. When does the offering of niche programming (tracks) cater too much to the individual and detract from the power of the collective and communal aspects of Jewish programming and  life that we know can be so impactful? (one of the major features of YJ Israel programs in the last few years and the Aadvark Israel program is the availability of different tracks for participants to choose from)

5. Have we as a community placed too much emphasis on the Israel experience as a primary means of Jewish socialization and education? Have we, so to speak, placed too many of our falafel balls in the one pita?

So, I turn it over to the blogosphere to help try and answer some of these questions – are you game?


  1. Benji Lovitt   |  Thursday, 11 February 2010 at 7:12 am

    So much to say, so little time, but wanted to write something:

    It is crazy expensive to get the best Jewish education between day schools, summer camps, and Israel trips. Some people say, “hey, why not move to Israel and get free day school!” In my opinion, not EXACTLY true…if every Jewish kid were in essence going to day school, we wouldn’t have people who don’t know who Ben-Gurion was or why we light the candles. There are Americans who can’t find America on a map, it’s not because they don’t go to school. Education is expensive if you don’t do it in the home from a young age.

    Follow-up is critical but the longer (and thus more immersive the program), the less follow-up the participants need; or at least they’re more likely to stay involved and seek it out themselves. Birthright-it’s critical. A MASA program? Much more likely to be internalized in the person.

    The individual aspect is controversial among the Young Judaean old farts but Keith, to his credit (or not, depending on who you talk to), has kept up with the times better than anyone. He didn’t invent the ipod/me-first/on-demand generation, he just catered to it. Compared to the experience *I* had years ago, it doesn’t compare in the eyes of us old farts. But if we step back, they have some many more opportunities here in Israel than we ever did. Marva (army), travel to Ethiopia, working for Magen David Adom….are you kidding me? The kibbutz movement is pretty much dead in Israel. Sad but true-so these programs are just mirroring society for better or worse.

    Ok, that’s all I got for now….

  2. Fan of David   |  Friday, 19 February 2010 at 6:44 am

    I’m a big fan of David and I usually read your stuff but don’t post anything. Well this post of yours left me with a lot to say as I’m looking at the two programs for one of my kids.

    1 The cost of raising your kids Jewish- Its gotten insane. You are correct. I understand that good programing costs money, we need to accept that. (We must also think about what a post birthright crowd will do when they are asked to spend money on being Jewish after receiving a free trip. Perhaps you should also blog on that) But your post was in reference to a new Israel program and I must point out that if you do the math this program isn’t cheaper they just include much less. They are like an airline that charges you for a pillow or for extra legroom. So not cool. Buyer beware!

    2. Yes the full cycle of an experience. Some programs have orientations which are expensive to run but are meant to enhance the overall experience. Yes Year Course does this, no Aardvark and others do not. So clearly Year Course is more committed to the overall experience.

    3 Competition is terrific in many ways, but only when it is clean and friendly competition, from what you read in the papers its not clear that what these former employees did was ethical or moral.

    4. Niche programing is a wonderful thing when its done well. Makom did a study that showed how experiencing Israel through the lense of a special interest will strengthen your experience. That’s why the nich programs are so important. Also today’s kids need an opportunity to try on new hats and to commit to advancing their expertise in an interest. These programs allow both to happen. I spoke to someone who did an interest track with Year Course and they seemed to have the most amazing year because of it.

    5. No, the right amount of falafel balls are in the pita. An immersive Israel experience is a fundamental component of comprising a stronger Jewish Identity. I stress Immersion, it must be a MASA program or a teen summer trip that is over a month long for it to have a real meaningful impact.

    Keep writing we all love your stuff

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