Parents joining teens on Israel trips tout the benefits

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The trip was sponsored by the S.F.-based Israel Experience, the teen department of the Jewish Community Federation's Israel Center, and by Israel Experience Inc. in New York. Throughout the program, the parents participated in youth activities sponsored by such groups as United Synagogue Youth, Young Judaea, North American Federation of Temple Youth and Nesiya.

Upon their return to the Bay Area, as Israel Experience promoters, the parents will spread the word to other families in their communities about the power that an Israel experience has on the development of a young person's Jewish identity.

Ilene Mattison-Shupnick, who visited Israel for the first time, witnessed a memorial service at Yad Vashem with NFTY's L'Dor V'Dor (generation to generation) program.

"It's one thing to walk through the Children's Memorial and then walk away, but being with a group of Jewish children as they take part in a service that they put together was a very moving way for me to see how the youth programs work," she observed. The Petaluma parent had the added perk of joining her daughter Marisa on the NFTY program.

Participants also watched teens create poetry at Yad Vashem, sat in on discussions about Zionism, and enjoyed a concert by Shlomo Barr that used music to teach about the diversity of cultures in Israel.

"I was so impressed by the high quality of all of the programs we visited," Agam said. "Whether it was USY, NFTY, Nesiya or Alexander Muss High School in Israel, the teens loved their experiences and were happy with the program they had chosen."

The Israel Experience works to increase the numbers of 13- to 19-year-olds participating in Israel experiences, providing guidance through the application process and financial assistance. The project, now beginning its fourth year, is funded by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the S.F.-based JCF. Israel Experience Inc., the Israel Experience's national body, was created to make teen Israel experiences a priority among local Jewish communities.

"I never really understood what the kids actually do over there that they love so much," said Mattison-Shupnick. "Now that I've had my own Israel experience, I feel much more knowledgeable about the choices parents have to make when deciding to send their children on these programs."

Shlomi Ravid, Israel Center director, said many families are unaware that assistance is available to make Israel programs accessible to more families. It's "our community's best kept secret.

"We hope that parents who hear from other parents about their children's experiences will help to generate excitement and assuage fears about sending their kids across the ocean for six weeks," Ravid said.