Home after Birthright

Moledet means “homeland” in Hebrew, and it’s no coincidence that it’s been chosen as the name of a pilot program aimed at maintaining the passion of recent Los Angeles Birthright alumni following their return home from Israel. 

Applications for the new program, created by American Jewish University (AJU) in cooperation with Birthright NEXT, will be available beginning Dec. 1.

The success of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program is no secret. More than 300,000 Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 have been inspired by its all-expenses-paid trips to Israel since 1999. While in Israel, they’ve embarked on journeys all over the nation: hiking Mount Carmel, eating falafel on a beach in Haifa and praying at the Kotel. Participants also have taken part in a mifgash  — or “encounter” — with their Israeli peers.

However, once these young adults return to the United States — 16,000 of them to the greater Los Angeles area so far — it’s proven more difficult to maintain their enthusiasm for Israel. Moledet aims to re-create the awe and profound sense of identity felt by many upon their first trip to Israel, according to Gady Levy, dean of the Whizin Center for Continuing Education and vice president of AJU.

“We wanted to create a program that emphasizes advocacy and knowledge about Israel and how to incorporate that into your own identity, and retaining that connection to Israel while living in the States,” Levy said.

Moledet will begin this summer, July 18-28, with an immersive retreat for 50 participants at AJU’s 2,700-acre Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley. While there, attendees — who must have participated in Birthright during the past 18 months — will delve into Jewish and Israeli-themed activities while living kibbutz style.

“There will be an emphasis on the arts, with Judaism being taught as a civilization rather than just a religion. So we’ll teach things like music, painting, photography, dance and cooking,” Levy said.

Throughout the year that follows, participants will be invited to private events, receive literature about Israel on a regular basis and be paired with a mentor — a community leader who will help them become leaders in their own right.

“Our ideal candidate would be somebody who actually understands and wants to continue their relationship with Israel and their Jewish identity,” Levy said. “We also want people who are very passionate. Our ideal is someone who can help foster this passion and understanding in the community and can commit to the time to work with the community throughout the year.”

One of the ways participants will “pay” for this otherwise free program — it is funded by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and other donors — is by creating two Los Angeles-wide events for the Jewish community, whether it be a program for Jerusalem Day or something else that promotes education or the social betterment of the city.

Levy hopes that this pilot program will help create the framework for a program that can be used nationwide. 

“My ultimate goal would be to create the masterbook for Moledet — from how to interview applicants to perfecting the curriculum,” Levy said. “That would be, for me, the greatest outcome.”

For more information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com.