Mitzvah Corps Israel

Mitzvah Corps Israel, in partnership with NFTY in Israel, provides the opportunity to explore the land of Israel, the people of Israel, and Jewish traditions while engaging in direct service learning. Spend three weeks traveling the land of Israel and participating in meaningful service projects. Meet and engage with Israeli youth throughout Israel, offering a unique and grounded perspective on modern day Israeli life and challenges they face on a day to day basis. Volunteer with a variety of organizations throughout Israel, and live the experiences of integrating social justice into your Israel journey.

This unique program has been created especially for teens who seek a meaningful journey through Israel with a focus on social justice, relationship building, and a deep glimpse into the realities that comprise Israeli communities. Mitzvah Corps Israel gives teens the opportunity to engage directly with communities that need the energy, dedication, and love that our teens can provide. Social and evening programs involve will delve deeper into the dialogue surrounding the experiences we’re having together and how they’re rooted in Jewish and Israeli social and ethical issues. From ancient Jerusalem to modern Tel Aviv, from the beautiful Galilee to the stunning Negev Desert, Mitzvah Corps Israel allows teens to visit Israel, take in its beauty and history all while making a difference in communities.

Service Learning

Over the course of the experience, the group will spend time working alongside various cultural communities in major cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, in smaller towns like Be'er Sheva, and on kibbutzim. These immersive experiences will allow American teens he opportunity to build real connections with their peers in Israel. Partner volunteer organizations include:

  • LOTEM, dedicated to making Israel's outdoors accessible to those with physical disabilities.
  • Yemin Orde, a youth village for at-risk immigrants and refugees from around the world.
  • Ziv Medical Center, a hospital that welcomes everybody, including Syrian refugees.
  • Mesila, providing support for immigrants, migrants, and refugees in Tel Aviv.
  • A New Dawn in the Negev, helping Bedouin children learn English.
  • Earth's Promise, developing sustainable urban agriculture in the desert of Be'er Sheva.

Travel

Israel is an incredible place to explore, with a wide variety of cultural, historical, and natural attractions. Those of us experiencing Israel for the first time will have the opportunity to see these sites first-hand; those of us who have been before, we will be returning to these powerful places with a new understanding of the complexities of Israel, through the lens of the different perspectives and narratives we've heard, begun to understand, and are starting to create for ourselves.

  • Walking the winding streets of the Old City of Jerusalem
  • Watching the sun rise from atop Masada
  • Relaxing on the beaches of Tel Aviv
  • Hiking the hills of the Negev (desert)
  • Exploring the ruins of ancient cities
  • Snorkeling in the ocean of Eilat
  • Kayaking down the Jordan River

Experiencing an Authentic Israel

Our interaction with Israelis and local communities isn't limited to the volunteering components of the program. At Mitzvah Corps Israel, we have the opportunity to live amongst Israelis throughout our journey, to experience life as Jewish people living in the Jewish State. The chance to eat, work, travel, learn, and socialize with members of the local communities opens the door for meaningful and honest insights into real Israeli culture.

Below is a sample itinerary for Mitzvah Corps Israel. An updated 2016 itinerary, with correctly corresponding dates and length, will be available in the coming weeks! For now, please feel free to peruse the types of experiences that Mitzvah Corps Israel offers below.

Day 1: Welcome to Mitzvah Corps Israel!
The group will gather at our domestic airport meeting location, and we'll begin by getting to know one another, and contextualizing the journey we're about to embark on. Adult chaperones will travel with the participants to Israel on an overnight flight.

Day 2: Arriving in the Land of Israel  
Discuss the value behind engaging with Israel through the lens of social justice. Introduce the meta-narratives that will accompany the group throughout their experience in Israel: the interconnectedness of such varying dynamics coexisting in such a geographically small place, and the tension of being both a Jewish and Democratic state.

Day 3: Comparing the Beauty of Nature vs Proximity to the Israeli-Lebanon Border
Begin by highlighting the stark contrast of the physical environment of Israel. The day will start off with a beautiful hike in Nahal Betzet, then the group will proceed to the famous grottos in Rosh Hanikra. Right next to the grottos lie the border between Israel and Lebanon, and the conversation idenity the drastic shift from enjoying peaceful beauty to a historic conflict area. In the evening, the group will explore the shuk (market) of the old city of Acco, and then prepare for the volunteering with Lotem. The physical land of Israel is as vital to its history and culture as the buildings or people, and is built into the core of the national educational and military curriculum. Given that, it’s crucial that Israel ensure that its natural resources are available to all, and have expanded their idea of “inclusion” to the outdoors, helping people with special needs access nature.

Day 4: Volunteer with Lotem, Hike in Nahal Hashofet, & Swim in the Kinneret
Lotem is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with special needs access nature. They work with the blind and visually impaired, physically challenged, emotionally disturbed, deaf and hearing impaired, mentally challenged and youth at risk populations and provides different workshops and tours that help them come in contact with places they would never be able to access alone. The group will volunteer on their farm, which is entirely handicapped accessible, and help them create new wheelchair accessible paths and areas for exploring. Together with guides from Lotem, the group will hike the only fully wheel chair accessible trail in Israel, and then swim in the Kinneret, Israel's only fresh water lake. In the evening, the group will begin to frame the next volunteering opportunity with Yemin Ord, and explore the ideas of being “strangers in a strange land,” and learn about the various groups that reside in Israel. From there, they will discuss the role of tension as a key element to the seemingly contradictory narratives.

Day 5: Volunteer at Yemin Ord
Yemin Ord is a boarding school for Ethiopian and Russian immigrants to Israel and helps them prepare them for the matriculation exams, the army and life in Israel. This school has helped countless young adults integrate into Israeli scoiety and was badly burned during the fire in the Carmel forest in 2010. Participants will help expand the nature center located on the campus. Later in the day, enjoy the breathtaking views of the Bahai gardens and learn about the Bahai faith and its central tenants of belief. Finally, in preparation for the visit to the Syrian border, the group will discuss the current civil war and the refugee situation that has ensued as a result of the fighting. What does it mean to be a refugee and what is it like to be alienated within your own country or forced to leave? The group will also begin to discuss what it means to be a “global citizen.”

Day 6: Visit an Army Base in the Border with Lebanon, Tzfat, and Ziv Hospital
Meet with Israeli soldiers and gain a deeper understanding as to how Israel protects its Northern border. Discuss some of the dilemmas that Israeli soldiers are facing and compare their service to that of soldiers in the US military. Tour the mystical city of Tzfat and learn about the birth of Jewish mysticism. Meet with a local artist and hear how the Kabbalah effects his artwork. Continuing the conversation about the role of Israel in caring for Syrian refugees, the group will visit the Ziv Hospital and hear from the doctors about the ways in which they have been taking care of injured Syrian citizens who have escaped the civil war in their country.

Day 7: Shabbat
After a late wake up, the group will use this week's Torah portion to reflect on their experiences thus far in Israel. After lunch, they'll bike around the Hula Valley! This lake was orignally another source of fresh water in the area and was drained for more farming land. After many years the lake was refilled and the eco-system that existed before has returned.

Day 8: Visit Naharayim, Travel to Jerusalem, & Frame Upcoming Volunteering
At the Israel/Jordan border, the group will learn about the history and the current state of affairs, before heading on down into Jerusalem. Beginning at the Haas Promenade, which offers a stunning view of the old city of Jerusalem, the group will begin to explore Jerusalem. Through tours of the Old City and the City of David, the group will view this holy city through the perspective of the historical narratives and how they impact the world today. To prepare for volunteering, he group will explore the ways in which Israel’s housing and industrial growth expanded beyond the city. From there, they will begin to process the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Day 9: Volunteer in Beit Yalin & Meet with Israeli Arab Council Members from Ein Nakuba
Beit Yalin is the first house built outside of Jerusalem. Participants will hear the story of the pioneering community that built in Motza and will help restore the site to its original glory. Later, they'll meet with Raed Awadallah, who sits on the local council of Ein Nakuba an Israeli Arab village outside of Jerusalem. He will explain the history of the community and the issues facing Arab Israelis in Israel.

Day 10: Introduction to Tel Aviv, Visit to Bar Noar LGBT Center, & Frame Volunteering with Mesila
The tour discusses the history of old Tel Aviv and the vision and dilemmas underlying the city's founding. Explore dilemmas brought up in the founding of the city. Participants will gain a basic understanding of social challenges facing Tel Aviv in the context of the city's history and mythology. Bar Noar is an LGBT advocacy center, and group will hear about LGBT life in Tel Aviv and Israel. To prepare for volunteering with Meslia, the group will have a meeting with a member of the asylum seeker community in south Tel Aviv to hear their personal story, and a separate meeting with a resident of south Tel Aviv to describe challenges of veteran residents.

Day 11: Volunteer with Mesila
Meslia is a day care program for children from families of non-Jewish asylum seekers and migrant workers, mostly from Africa and Southeast Asia. Participant will work with the children directly, and hear from the adults about their experiences arriving and living in Israel. 

Day 12: Continue Volunteering with Mesila & Bina Secular Yeshiva Learning
Spend today continuing to build relationships with the children at Mesila. There will also be an opportunity to engage in some peer-to-peer interactions with some of the students at Bina, the only secular yeshiva in Israel.

Day 13: Volunteering at Ironi Z' & Visit Rabin Square
Work with students at the summer school Ironi Z’ in Jaffa, helping to teach them English. During the afternoon visit to Rabin Square, participants will learn about the context of the assassination and how it influences Israel 20 years later. They'll spend Erev Shabbat with a local Reform Jewish community in Tel Aviv.

Day 14: Shabbat, Grafitti Tour of Tel Aviv, & Visit to the Beach 
As part of the immersive Shabbat experience, the group will explore Tel Aviv on foot, learning about the cultural and political meaning behind the graffiti on the streets. They’ll spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach!

Day 15: Travel to Sde Boker & Explore the Natural Beauty of Eilat
This morning the group will travel down south towards Sde Boker, stopping to visit the grave of Ben Gurion along the way. This will frame the idea and give context to the growth of kibbutzim in the desert. Visit the largest sand dunes in Israel, climb to the top and run/roll down together. Explore the different shapes and colors of the desert through beautiful hikes, and cool off by snorkeling in the exotic coral reefs. Enjoy a relaxing evening on the boardwalk.

Day 16: Sunrise Hike up Masada & Dead Sea
Wake up before dawn and climb the snake path up Masada for sunrise. Hear about the zealots who fought the Romans and about Masada's importance in the Zionist narrative. Afterwards, the group will cool off with a float in the Dead Sea, and then head to a Bedouin village. There, they'll ride camels, and learn about the Southern Bedouin way of life. Enjoy a traditional Bedouin meal and an evening under the desert night sky.

Day 17: Volunteer in a English Summer Camp in Rahat
Rahat is the largest Bedouin city in the Negev, we will meet with residents of the city to hear how about the transition from a nomadic lifestyle to city dwellers and run a series of games and activities in English. Celebrate Shabbat with a unique kibbutz that is home to both religious and secular communities.

Day 18: Volunteer with Earth's Promise & Visit the Hajar Bilingual School in Be'er Sheva
Earth's Promise is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing agricultural sustainability to urban centers. They started in partnership with an Ethiopian Absorption center helping the older immigrants create a community garden and an opportunity to connect to their traditional way of life. From there, they built Israel's first urban organic farm, and the group will help them expand and improve the farm. Next to the urban farm is an Ethiopian absorption center that houses new immigrants to Israel. The group will hear their story of Aliya and the challenges of integrating into Israeli society. Hajar is the only bi lingual (Arabic-Hebrew) school in the Negev and brings together Arab and Jewish Israelis. The group will hear about their accomplishments and challenges.

Day 19: Travel to Jerusalem, Meet with Women of the Wall & Legislative Leaders
As the group transitions from the Negev to Jerusalem, they will approach from a different perspective, both geographically and abstractly. Now that they have experienced firsthand the tensions and challenges facing Israeli society, as well as a variety of methods in which communities are addressing them, the group will spend time in Jerusalem, where political and financial decisions about these issues are made. Women of the Wall has been fighting for women’s rights at Judaism’s holieset site for over 20 years. Their goal is that Jewish women should be able to pray at the wall as they see fit, which includes being able to wear tallitot and kipot as well as read from a torah on the women’s side of the wall. End the evening, and the program, with a culinary tour of the Shuk Mahane Yehuda!

Day 20: Yad Vashem, Mount Herzel, & Erev Shabbat at the Western Wall
As we prepare to welcome our final Shabbat in one of the holiest cities in the world, we'll begin the day by remembering the past, and feeling the depth of the connection to our collective history. After a mid afternoon break, the group will go down into the Old City, and officially begin Shabbat at the Western Wall. Services will be spent at Kol Haneshama, the Reform Jewish congregation - and site of the very first Mitzvah Corps Israel volunteer project! 

Day 21: Shabbat in Jerusalem
We'll spend the day relaxing, packing, debriefing our experience, and discussing meaningful ways to apply the values and lessons we've learned back home. In the evening after Havdallah, we'll say our final goodbyes and travel to the airport for a late night flight.

Day 22: L'hitra'ot
We'll arrive back in the States early in the morning. Thanks for an incredible summer! 

Faces of Israel & Interfaith Relations

Israel plays a fundamental role in our Jewish story, and its history and presence as the Jewish State is a strong component of Reform Judaism. However, Israel is also home to many different faces and voices, to individuals and cohorts with various religious and ethnic affiliations, all of whom exist alongside and interact with one another on a daily basis. These narratives may seem contradictory, but using Jewish values as a guide, there are many organizations and projects that exist around the country to offer opportunities for meaningful partnership in the collective effort to achieve peace.

Mitzvah Corps Israel participants embark on a journey to discover these incredibly inspiring initiatives; to engage with citizens of Israel whose stories too often go untold, and whose positive impacts and messages of peace too often go unheard. By being immersed in these various communities, working alongside those with a shared vision of peace and collaboration, hearing their stories and learning from their methodology, teens on this program come away with a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of Israel’s demographics. Peeling back the layers of conflict and unrest, they’ll be exposed to the power of an authentic Israel, its natural beauty, historical significance, and ultimately the genuine stories of cooperation and understanding between its people.

Who is eligible to participate? 
Mitzvah Corps Israel is open to participants who are entering 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, as well as entering college. All of our participants, regardless of their age, are expected to adhere to the same standards, rules, and guidelines.

Is a passport required for participation?
Yes! All participants on Mitzvah Corps Israel will need a passport that is valid for 6 months after the conclusion of the program.

What is the typical group size?  
Mitzvah Corps Israel has approximately 20 participants. Our group size is large enough to build a strong community, yet intimate enough to give each individual the chance to have a meaningful service and learning experience. 

What is the staff supervision like?
Mitzvah Corps strives for the highest standard of staff supervision. Our group leaders and tour guide educators are generally older and have more Jewish and life experience than in most other programs. Our staff to participant ratio is 1:10, and there are minimally four staff members assigned to be with the group. Additionally, our participants will be accompanied at all times by an Israeli security guard, as prescribed by the Jewish Agency's security office.

Each person selected to serve as a Mitzvah Corps staff member has extensive experience working with teens, knowledge of Israel, and often is a graduate of NFTY and our URJ camping system. Each staff team is comprised of both men and women, and both North Americans and Israelis. All staff members participate in a thorough staff training orientation covering issues of education, health, safety, security, community building and adolescent issues. Our Tour Guide/Educators are required to participate in a 6-month training course in Israel designed exclusively by and for Union for Reform Judaism teen program staff.

Our Mitzvah Corps group will be supervised by the Senior Directors of both Mitzvah Corps and NFTY in Israel.

How does Mitzvah Corps Israel provide medical care?
Participants on our Israel programs are provided with medical insurance that covers everything except pre-existing conditions. Mitzvah Corps strives to provide the highest standard of medical care available. In the event that a participant needs medical care, we ensure they see English speaking doctors, and are accompanied 24-7 by a Mitzvah Corps staff member.

What is the procedure for dispensing prescription medication?
Participants are responsible for holding onto and dispensing their own medications.

Are the programs safe?
Mitzvah Corps and NFTY in Israel are exceedingly cautious and conservative. The group has a cell phone and is in daily contact with the Mitzvah Corps Israel office. Itineraries are reviewed on a daily basis to ensure that all groups are traveling on the safest and most appropriate routes, and changes can be made at a moment's notice.

Our full-time education and logistics professionals in Israel consult daily with the Security Department of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who are in constant contact with the government, police, and military authorities. Contigency plans are in place, and will be implemented as necessary, to move groups to safety and/or bring them home as appropriate.

They are accompanied at all times by an Israeli security guard as prescribed by the Jewish Agency's security office, and never travel on public transportation - only on private, chartered buses.

Who can parents reach during the summer?
Mitzvah Corps Directors in Israel and New York are available 24 hours a day. Additionally, the group in Israel has a cell phone for immediate contact if need be.

Are cell phones permitted on the program? Is it possible to rent an Israeli cell phone?
We work with an Israeli company called Israel Phones to provide cell phone rentals to participants on our programs. You will have the option of renting a cell phone or just a SIM card for use in an unlocked phone you provide. Cell phone rental costs are not included in the program fee, and participants are responsible for paying for whichever service they choose. The staff cell phones are for emergencies only, and not for regular use. Approximately 80% of families do rent a cell phone for their teens, but it is not essential.

What are the meals and accommodations like?
Our accommodations are safe, clean, and appropriate for teens. They stay in kibbutz guesthouses (hotels located on kibbutzim), youth centers, hotels and camping sights throughout Israel. There are usually three to four participants who identify as the same gender per room with a private bath, and most places are air-conditioned.

Participants are provided with three complete meals a day, and a vegetarian option is always available. Virtually every accommodation during the summer in Israel is Kosher, and meals will be Kosher style (no meat and dairy served together).

How does the group travel to, and within, Israel?

  • Domestic Flights - USA/Canada - Participants are responsible for their own domestic arrangements to and from the program’s departure city, typically on the East Coast of the United States (Boston, New York, or Philadelphia). The cost of domestic travel is not included in the program fee.
  • Arrival at Domestic Airport - Transfer to International Departure Terminal - Participants who fly to the domestic airport are given explicit instructions how to transfer from their domestic arriving terminal to the departure terminal for their international flight.
  • International Flights - Mitzvah Corps organizes the group's international travel to Israel, and the cost of that flight is included in the program fee. All participants fly on major airlines that comply with the standard safety and security measures in Europe, Israel, and the United States.
  • Ground Transportation – All programs use air-conditioned privately chartered buses. Mitzvah Corps does not use public transportation.

 

What is NOT included in the program tuition?
Spending money for gifts, extra snacks, and miscellaneous items must be provided by each participant on the program and is not included in the program fee. We find that $100-$150 per week is the average amount spent by participants. If you are planning to purchase many gifts, you may need more. Our teens mainly spend their money on snacks and souvenirs.

What are the options to exchange currency in Israel?
Please plan to bring a debit card or ATM card with you for withdrawing cash. You may use your own card from your own bank or preferred pre-paid debit card serivce, however we recommend using a company based in Israel called Payoneer that provides pre-paid debit cards on the MasterCard system and an online account for parents to add funds and track spending. The major advantage of Payoneer is that our group leaders carry extra Payoneer cards with them, so the card can be easily replaced and the balance transferred if the original is lost or stolen.

Where are valuables stored during the program?
Passports and airplane tickets are held for safekeeping by group leaders. Our participants are responsible for all other valuables. Mitzvah Corps does not accept responsibility for anything that is lost or stolen during the program.

At A Glance

Dates: June 29 - July 20, 2016
Length: 22 days
Issue Focus: Faces of Israel &
Interfaith Relations
Community Service Hours: 120
Cost: $7,395
*$1,500 scholarships available!

Mitzvah Corps Israel tuition includes international airfare from Boston. The cost of domestic airfare to Boston is not included.

Contact us to learn more about our substantial financial supportWe will gladly work with any family to make this program a reality.
Mitzvah Corps is open to all rising 10th - graduating 12th graders.