Thursday, September 27, 2018

Not the Israel of their youth: Baby Boomers see country anew on JNF tours

Over the course of nearly 20 years, over 500,000 young Jews have traveled to Israel with Taglit-Birthright for an unforgettable opportunity to connect with the country. Alleviating the fear that the next generation of Jews will drift further from their Jewish traditions, Birthright has become an institution for Israel education and learning. Parents and grandparents "kvell" when their children return from such a transformative experience, living their Israel experiences vicariously through Facebook and Instagram photos, and also feeling newfound appreciation for Judaism and Zionism and pride in their heritage.

But loving all Israel has to offer isn't just for the younger generation, as a recent Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) Sunshine Tour for travelers 55 and over proves. "This is not the same Israel I grew up with," one participant said. "This is an adventure in context with the land. It is living history and it's really spectacular."

Of the 46 participants on the trip in early September, 36 had never been to Israel.  

“We were looking at a synagogue trip, but we wanted to go with contemporaries with interests similar to ours," said one of those who'd never been, Al Wolf of Detroit. "If anyone knows Israel, it’s going to be Jewish National Fund. I mean they were here before there was an Israel, right? When I told my sister, Michele, about this, she immediately joined us -- and that was the icing on the cake."

Just as Jewish National Fund has redefined itself as not being "your grandparents' organization," so too has Israel become a completely different country since the 1960s and early '70s. 

"In my travels for JNF-USA around the country, I would often ask older people if they had ever been to Israel," said tour chair Dr. Melinda Wolf, who began the Sunshine Tour seven years ago with Tony Award-winning actor Hal Linden. "Most had not been, or it had been some 30 years since they were last there, and had not returned because they felt age was a preventing factor traveling across the Israeli landscape." 

A geriatric physician, Dr. Wolf saw the opportunity to enable active seniors to travel through Israel. While it was once billed as a "senior mission," the Sunshine Tour is now more a luxury and exploratory adventure that involves participants who've globetrotted to some of the world's most exotic destinations.

"I've been a big supporter of Israel and Jewish National Fund for many years, but I haven’t been back to Israel for 20 years," said Jeff Wien of Chicago. "Yes, I’m getting on in age, but I didn't want to go on a trip for altacockers [Yiddish for 'old guys']. I was shocked at the youthfulness and atmosphere in Tel Aviv. Everyone's out riding bicycles or surfing in the Mediterranean; it was just so vibrant."  

More missions 
A new JNF tour of Israel from a Torah perspective 

From watching the setting sun and sipping wine on the white sandy beaches of Tel Aviv to jeep rides in the Golan Heights guided by top Israel Defense Force officers, members of the Sunshine Tour could not help but fall in love with an Israel that abounds with culinary delights, shopping, innovation and technology -- a stark contrast from the black and white images of kibbutzniks picking oranges they grew up with in the early days of the country. Writer's note: kibbutzniks still pick oranges, along with avocados, pineapples and more, most of which is exported to Europe.  

"This vision of Israel that we all grew up with is completely outdated," said Matt Bernstein, Jewish National Fund-USA's Chief Planned Giving Officer. "We went out for a night in Tel Aviv at one of the local cafes, and if you didn't know you were in Israel, one would think they were in Paris, Vienna, or any world-class city."

Israel has emerged as an internationally recognized travel destination, and is so much more than a rite of passage for young Jewish millennials. For Baby Boomers, Israel was ingrained as part of their Jewish identity, but many felt left behind as Israel moved into the 21st century. That’s no longer the case as different generations today are seeing Israel with eyes wide open and more opportunities to experience a variety of tours and adventures. 

The next Sunshine Tour runs from March 31 - April 9, 2019. Don't miss out! Click here for more info. 


  1. We need to continue to make personal connections to israel. We also need to go to israel with our adult children! We do fear our extinction as a real possibility due to the indoctrination of millenials on campus and in the news. We need to enlist the next generation in being OUT AND PROUD JEWS AND ARDENT SUPPORTERS OF ISRAEL. The usa and israel share values, share democracy and share a world vision. We must engage the next generation with experiences via visits to israel and to readdress our connection to our Homeland in ways that connect with the next generation. LDOR VADOR is not some elusive concept. As jews, it is our responsibility to impart the legacy of continuity to our children, as they will to their children.
    This is the ideal moment in America to shed our collective diaspoa consciousness of blending, hiding in plain sight. While our society encourages everyone to celebrate their differences, their uniqueness, their diverse backgrounds, it is our time to BE OUT AND PROUD JEWS! As such, we can shed our political differences and coalesce around the goal of preservation of our species in the future. As we support others, as we seek to save species from extinction, let us include ourselves in these endeavors. These concepts speak to the mindset of our youth. It is our job to connect the dots so that we may pass the gauntlet of our jewish pride and future survival in the 21 century and beyond! Touche for Birthright taking the next step to give adults the opportunity to re educate and reconnect with the land. We must take it to the next level with our youth to ensure our survival in the 21 xentury and beyond. Once you have realized our responsibility as Jews, we can as individuals make a difference. By going to israel with multi generations of our families, by joining jewish organizations by attending AIPAC and other pro israel/pro zionist national movements we will have the tools to help us engage and inspire the next generation of OUT AND PROUD JEWS. Our future survival depends on it

  2. Lets put politics aside and bring this conversation to our individual spheres of influence within our communities, to our shuls as centers of learning and to our holiday dinner tables! In the spirit of ldor vador and tikun olam we can stand shoulder to shoulder with every generation of jews and ensure a jewish future and a jewish homeland!!! Take up the gauntlet! The time is NOW!

  3. As we stand in solidarity with pittsburgh and against antisemistism, LETS STAND STRONG LETS STAND PROUD LETS MAKE A VOW TO SUPPORT THE JEWISH STATE OF ISRAEL, OUR HOPE OUR HOMELAND. We are seeing a sharp rise of anti semitism here and abroad to levels that are dangerous for ALL OF US AS JEWS.
    Regardless of our personal politics, it does NOT matter who our president is or who the prime minister of israel is. What matters is the support and preservation of israel as our homeland!

    1. STAND UP AGAINST ANTISEMITISM AND STAND PRO ISRAEL! our values, vision and futures are inextricably connected. HELP MILLENIALS CONNECT WITH ISRAEL AS ADULTS. we all have a shared legacy and shared responsibility to keep judaism alive and well in the 21 century and beyond. BIRTHRIGHT HAS TRANSFORMED THE VISION INTO OPPORTUNITY FOR US ALL! we must continue to create opportunities for future generations to ensure our future and israels future as a jewish homeland.

  4. The taglit birthright trip is an opportunity to galvanize all generations to support israel. Donate, get involved in jewish organizations, create opportunities to educate everyone to the importance of supporting israel, our jewish homeland. We are in the moment of now!