Koret head making job shift to help teens experience Israel

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Michael Papo is moving from the Bay Area to New York so more young people can go to Israel.

Sound confusing?

Not really. Papo, executive director of San Francisco's Koret Foundation, has accepted a job at Israel Experience Inc.-Birthright, a New York-based organization dedicated to increasing the number of North American youth participating in educational travel to Israel.

Such jaunts "are a powerful tool in the maintenance and creation of Jewish identity," he says.

Papo, a longtime Jewish communal professional who has worked at Koret for seven years, will begin his new job Oct. 14.

"I have lived all of my adult life in Northern California and I will miss friends, colleagues and the Koret Foundation," says Papo, who grew up in Sacramento and attended U.C. Berkeley. "Yet this was a job situation that was so appealing to me on so many different levels, I couldn't turn it down."

Israel Experience Inc.- Birthright is primarily funded by major Jewish philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt.

They have committed $100 million dollars to the project over the next five years and will attempt to raise another $100 million from United Jewish Appeal, local federations and other sources.

Papo, who will serve as executive vice president of the organization, will be a key player in the fund-raising effort.

"When you have a good cause and have some passion behind it, people will give," he says.

Though Israel Experience Inc.-Birthright has gained attention in the Jewish world, the concept of helping young people get to Israel is not a new one, Papo points out. Synagogues have been helping fund trips to Israel for years. So has the Jewish Agency.

"It's just a question of taking this base and enlarging it," Papo says. "We're not recreating the wheel. We're making the wheel bigger and stronger."

Papo has experience with subsidized trips to Israel through Koret's Israel Teen Trip. Instituted in 1996, KITT offers shorter-than-usual summer teen trips to the Jewish state — three and a half weeks versus six — at slightly more than one-third the cost.

"The work we did here," he says, "clearly got me better understanding the value of these trips and the need for the Jewish community to be more innovative and creative in terms of lowering the cost and offering families different options."

The Koret Foundation grants funds to the general and Jewish communities, supporting a number of programs aimed at strengthening Jewish life in the Bay Area.

It was through Koret's work with Israel teen trips that Papo became acquainted with the staff at Israel Experience Inc.-Birthright. He believes shorter trips at lower cost attract unaffiliated families who might otherwise not send their children to the Jewish state.

Papo, 54, has personal experience with Israel trips. His 22-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter have traveled there. He himself spent a year there between high school and college and credits this experience, in part, to propelling him toward a career in the Jewish community.

Prior to joining the Koret staff, Papo served as executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose. Before that, he worked as associate director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

"I came from a family with very strong values and commitments," he says, "and it was a natural progression for me to become involved professionally."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.