Israel After Dark offers teens a glimpse of Holy Land

Sixteen-year-old Molly Kirk of San Francisco is going through Israel withdrawal. She fell in love with the country after spending last summer there.

For Jeremy Katz, 17, of Palo Alto, Israel was just one of those "distant places in the news"– until he experienced its intensity and warmth during a summer there.

Kirk and Katz are set to share their memories and enthusiasm with their peers next month at "Israel After Dark," where Israel's best-loved teen scenes and activities are recreated.

Held at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Center on California Street and sponsored by the Israel Experience of the S.F.-based Israel Center and the Teen Initiative of the Bureau of Jewish Education, the event will transform rooms at the JCC into Bedouin camps, nightclubs and the busy cafes of Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street.

At last year's gathering, more than 250 teens from around the Bay Area danced and munched falafel. Heidi Winig, coordinator of the Israel Experience, is hoping this year will bring an even bigger turnout.

"What makes this event so unique is that it is for teens only," says Winig.

"Teens come to dance and see their friends, but they walk away with the knowledge of how they, too, can have a life-transforming experience in Israel."

All teens from ninth to twelfth grade are welcome to attend. The event will run from 8-11 p.m. on Saturday, March 8.

Participants arriving at the JCC will check in at the El Al desk and receive a "passport."

The next stop will be the "travel agency," where Israel travel providers will offer information about trips including special interests such as art and archaeology.

In the various rooms redecorated to represent Israeli locations and activities, they can get the passports stamped.

In a room lit by disco lights and filled with music by the high school band Ska Rasta, teens will find themselves immersed in a typical Israeli nightclub, with screens showing music videos and scenes of youth culture in Israel.

With rugs on the floor and tapestries on the walls, a Bedouin tent will capture the feeling of the Negev Desert. Eastern music will play in the background while visitors sit on pillows on the floor, sipping tea and eating the pastry baklava.

In the tent, teens can craft jewelry using Middle Eastern beads, or use henna to make temporary tattoos.

Meanwhile, a simulated gadna (army) training program will be offered.

A facsimile of a cafe on the lively Jerusalem promenade known as Ben Yehuda will serve Middle Eastern cuisine, ice cream and Israeli chocolates.

"There will be a ton of Israeli food," Winig promises.

Throughout the evening, slide shows featuring Israeli teen activities will be displayed on numerous screens. Raffle prizes will be given out, including a grand prize: one round-trip airfare to Israel. Smaller prizes will include water bottles and other travel supplies.

Winig says the Israel Experience is an initiative intended to increase teen travel to Israel. Funded by the Charles R. Bronfman Foundation and the JCF's Endowment Fund as well as by other local philanthropies, it offers information and financial aid to young people traveling to Israel.

"We help teens find the program that's the right fit for them," says Winig.

Israel After Dark is being organized by Winig, the BJE's Yael Lazar-Paley and a group of about 20 teenage "consultants," including Kirk and Katz . At the event, the consultants, dressed in Israeli army uniforms, will stroll around sharing their adventures and encouraging others to visit Israel.

"These kids had amazing experiences in Israel and they want to share them with other teens," says Winig.

Teen consultant Liora Brosbe of Santa Rosa spent last summer in Israel after attending last year's Israel After Dark. At this year's event she hopes to "demonstrate her passion for Israel in an interactive way."

Israel After Dark should shed light on the Holy Land for area teens. "A lot of teens want to go to Israel and just don't know how to go about getting information," Brosbe said.

Katz, who spent six weeks in Israel last summer, says his goal is to get people interested in Israel and to give them an authentic sense of what Israel is like.

"Before I went to Israel I thought everyone wore black hats and said, `Oy vey,'" the teen recalls.

Kirk adds, "High school students consider traveling to Spain, Italy and a lot of other countries, but they need to know Israel offers something everyone can relate to."

For more information about Israel travel or teen programs, contact Winig at (415) 751-6983, ext. 117.