Detroit Teen Mission is back in force in Israel

(David Estrin of Estrin Productions)

Teen Mission 22 (TM22) is the first such community journey since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

RRecently, Jewish youth in Metro Detroit joined the booming new tourism to Israel after the two-year hiatus caused by COVID-19. Teen Mission 22 (TM22), officially the “Sue & Alan Kaufman & Family Teen Mission to Israel,” from June 20 to July 15, joins a surge in visitors to the Jewish state that has fallen 91% from 2019 to 2021, according to the Israeli government’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

More than 110 Detroit residents – teenagers, counselors, rabbis and employees – disembarked at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on June 21 and were greeted by the welcoming voices of Israeli teenagers joining their buses, Israeli counselors and the Israel-based Partnership2Gether staff, singing “Shalom Aleichem.

TM22 is the first such community trip since 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organized by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, community congregations and Tamarack Camps, the semester-long experience is comprised primarily of teenagers entering their senior year of high school. They are joined by several high school graduates who have missed their chance to participate over the past two years, and a number of students entering grades 10 and 11.

Overlooking the City of David
Overlooking the City of David David Estrin of Estrin Productions

The mission participants are part of the post-Corona resurgence of travelers to Israel, which peaked at 4.5 million tourist entries in 2019, according to CBS. The pandemic has pushed that number down to just one in five (or 82%) in 2020 at 830,000, and a further 48% year-over-year drop to 396,500 last year.

The TM22 travelers are joined by 21 other teens from the Partnership2Gether region of Detroit in the Central Galilee.

“One of the unique things about the teen mission is that we travel with seven Israeli teenagers on each bus,” said Rabbi Jen Lader of Temple Israel, who leads one of the mission’s three buses and the largest delegation. of the participating adolescent congregation. “It’s not just about travelling; it’s about developing lasting relationships with their Israeli peers to help them better understand the context of Israel,” she said.

The Israelis also have bus advisers, each with experience in Tamarack. “Raz [Gino] grew up in the partnership region and the Tamarack leadership program,” said Ofri Livney, a liaison for the Detroit Partnership Region Mission. “Nimrod [Gutman] also served as a leadership advisor last year. And Roni [Goldman] was also a leadership program counselor and attended Tamarack as a child. They all live in Nof HaGalil.

The Israeli counselors and teens will work at the Tamarack camps after the mission returns to Detroit in mid-July to work as Teen Leadership Village (TLV) staff, formerly known as Teen Service Staff (TSS ). The counselors will be supervisors, reporting to Sara Frost, 27, teen mission coordinator, who will oversee TLV.

The teens will be joined by an equal number of Detroit teens, who are also on assignments, to become TLV counselors. One of the Israeli teenagers is 16-year-old Harel Shachar, who attended Camp Tamarack in 2019. Originally from Shimsheet in the central Galilee, he is excited to see old friends on the mission again and to return to spend his summer with them. “I think it’s good to meet American teenagers; we become good friends and visit each other,” he said.

“A month-long trip to Israel and then camping in Detroit is a great way to make friends,” said Yonatan Aswiia, 16, of Midgal Ha’emek. He and his brother were participating in the Partnership2Gether leadership program, and he has been a Tamarack veteran since 2019.

An adventurous day climbing Crater Rock.
An adventurous day climbing Crater Rock. David Estrin of Estrin Productions
A whirlwind good time

Maddy Iwrey, 20, of Farmington Hills, is a counselor on one of the mission’s three buses. She appreciates the “non-stop” pace of the mission, which began by experiencing the spiritual connection to the Land of Israel at Neot Kedumim with a tree-planting ceremony. They then took the bus south to the tomb of David and Paula Ben-Gurion in Sde Boker, overlooking breathtaking views of the Chin Canyon and the Avdat Highlands in the heart of the Negev.

After the solemn event, they drove further south to Mitzpe Ramon for a few days, before returning to Jerusalem for Shabbat. “We’ve been very busy here,” she says enthusiastically. “We took a boat ride and went swimming. We hiked the sand dunes in the morning. It was amazing but hot! she added. Accuweather.com reported the maximum was 106F with a minimum of 79f.

They explored and spent the night in Mitzpe Ramon, sometimes called “Israel’s Grand Canyon”, and enjoyed the Bedouin hospitality of Ben Midbar, with an authentic tent used for community events. They discovered how traditional Bedouin bread is made under fire and how pots of chicken are placed under fire in an impromptu natural oven. They sat on pillows on the floor during the cultural meal.

The participants enjoyed the Bedouin hospitality of Ben Midbar.
The participants enjoyed the Bedouin hospitality of Ben Midbar. David Estrin of Estrin Productions

The ties create many personal relationships between Detroit and Israeli teens in the partnership region, Rabbi Lader agrees, noting that Detroit residents learn about how their Israeli counterparts live and they also learn about American Jews. “The relationship isn’t just going one way,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for Israeli children to learn about liberal Judaism, meet a female rabbi and see girls reading Torah.”

The six-member clergy delegation includes Rabbi Lader, who is with the Mission all the time, Rabbis Jennifer Kaluzny, also from Temple Israel, Rabbi Dan Horowitz of Adat Shalom Synagogue, Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, and Rabbis Daniel Schwartz and Michael Moskowitz of Shir Shalom Temple. Cantor Debbie Bletstein, LLMSW, who joined Congregation B’nai Moshe last year, becoming the first full-time female cantor of a Conservative synagogue in Detroit, is however participating in her capacity as a licensed social worker. Tamarack Camps recruited her through a foundation grant to provide counseling and other assistance as needed during the mission.

TM22 wraps up its week after the Negev sojourn in the Jerusalem area, hosting Shabbat in the egalitarian prayer space of the Western Wall, the non-Orthodox “mixed” prayer space for men and women. They are staying at the Kiryat Ye’arim Youth Village Guest House, near where US Colonel David Daniel Mickey Marcus was killed during Israel’s War of Independence.

Having fun on the hiking trail.
Having fun on the hiking trail. David Estrin of Estrin Productions

The Jewish Virtual Library recounts that in 1948, acting Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion appointed him lieutenant general, the first general of the independent Jewish state since Judah Maccabee. Marcus, who served under the name “Michael Stone” as a ruse to avoid being charged by the United States as an American officer serving in a foreign military. He tailored his training as an American Ranger to the command structure and special needs of the new Jewish army, providing strategy and tactics to overcome the superior numbers and weaponry possessed by the invading Arab armies.

The Jewish Virtual Library notes how just six hours before the start of the first ceasefire on June 10, 1948, the man-of-war took a nighttime walk near the kibbutz, ventured beyond the guarded perimeter , dressed in her white robe to go to bed. An Israeli sentry challenged anyone who might be in the robe for the password. Neither spoke the other’s language, resulting in a single fatal blow. Hollywood immortalized it on film in a movie, Cast a giant shadow.

The second week of TM22 is based around Jerusalem, where they will visit and learn about the capital’s Old City and its Jewish Quarter, hike Masada and Ein Gedi, and participate in an archaeological dig for a day.

Having a good time on Ben Yehuda Street
Having a good time on Ben Yehuda Street David Estrin of Estrin Productions

The Teen Mission is sponsored by the Jewish Federation every two years. Tamarack Camps operates its teenage mission in the years since. Information is available in adolescence
mission office, (248) 952-9110 or at https://teenmissiondetroit.org.

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