A critical component of today’s Taglit-Birthright Israel trips is a mifgash (encounter) with Israeli peers. On most trips, Israeli soldiers and college students, ages 18-26 (depending on the age of the American participants on that bus), spend five days together with Americans. They travel together, form relationships, and experience a cross-cultural exchange that is part of what makes Taglit so impactful.
When the mifgash program began, the focus and emphasis was on American young adults—on how meeting and travelling with Israelis would affect an American’s experience and Israel education. After several years, Taglit saw the unexpected effect the program had on the Israeli participants. A 2008 study by the Cohen Center at Brandeis University found that, of those Israeli mifgash participants surveyed, over 70% responded that the trip made them feel proud to be Israeli, proud of the State of Israel, and proud to be Jewish. Nearly 50% responded that the experience made them think about their Jewish identity. Simply by exposing these Israelis to Diaspora Jews who are exploring Israel for the first time, the Israelis were able to appreciate the land from a new perspective.
Aside from the incredible impact on the Israeli participants, Americans continuously report that the mifgash is one of their favorite and most meaningful parts of the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. Because of this, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles invests additional resources in the mifgash program for our LA Way Birthright Israel trips. We double down on the impact of the mifgash and ensure that each of our trips includes travel with Israeli peers for the entirety of the 10-day experience. The additional value far surpasses the additional cost.
Our team can give you statistics and stories for days. But the true impact is articulated far better by our participants. Below is a Facebook post (reposted here with permission) by Uri Pollack, who was a mifgash participant on an LA Way Winter 2013/2014 trip with Israel Outdoors. Uri is 25 years old and has never visited the United States. He currently lives in Tel Aviv and studies at the Open University.
Even though this trip is about YOU, the Americans, I ended up taking so much for myself than I could ever imagine. [sic]
Even though I’ve been to every place we’ve been to, heard every lecture we were told, it was still so emotional for me to hear those stories, it still amazes me how we, the Jewish people, and my country, Israel, manage to survive so much throughout the years. I came to the trip thinking that I know everything there is to know, but I didn’t think that I could become more attached to my religion, even though I am not religious, and to my country, that I already loved so much. I hope you all remember at least some of the things we learned, and that you will represent the Jewish people and the State of Israel with pride.
And on a more personal note, I just wanted you to know that this trip has changed me. I am a pretty closed up guy with a very hard shell. I never dance, I never sing, and I sure as hell never do stand-up comedy! But you broke it, you broke my shell.
With you guys I did all of the above and I enjoyed every last bit of it. I hope you can understand what a huge change it is for me, many have tried to open me up, but they all failed. With you I felt so confident, and I want to thank you so much! You guys showed me how amazing and awesome you all are, and I am so happy that I got to know you all, each with his own unique character. I wish we could have so much more time together.
I always wanted to go to the US and I always said that the first place I’ll go to will be New York, but nah! LA is my destination now! Hopefully by summertime I’ll manage to save up for a trip there, and meet up with you.
I said it before and I will say it again, whenever you come to Israel, you will always have a place to stay for as long as you want, my place in Tel Aviv will always be open for you. I love you all very much, I miss you so much, I wish you all the very best in life, don’t ever take anything for granted (!!), and I hope we’ll meet again!”
Registration for Summer 2014 LA Way Birthright Israel trips opens February 19th.
Click HERE for more information.