Program offers Israel trips for adults 27-40

BY MIA LEVINE, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

For 10 St. Louis Jews, a trip last fall proved to be a life-changing journey that challenged their beliefs, altered their perceptions and forever changed their attitudes about themselves and the local and global Jewish community. Under a new program called the Rubin Israel Experience, Ron Rubin and his wife, Pam, endowed 10 slots for these adults to travel to Israel for the first time.

Ron Rubin is CEO, owner and “Minister of Tea” of one of the world’s largest tea purveyors, The Republic of Tea. The Rubins, who live in Clayton, wanted to find a way to foster leadership development and enhance involvement in the local Jewish community. While meeting with Jewish Federation Executive Vice President Barry Rosenberg, they came up with a program, patterned after Taglit-Birthright Israel, which offers free 10-day trips to students between the ages of 18 and 26.

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“I hear about a lot of people don’t get to experience Israel because they’re over 26-years-old,” said Rubin, who also serves as a Taglit-Birthright Israel board member. “So we put our heads together and developed this program for adults ages 27-40,” he said. The first beneficiary of the program visited Israel in mid-November.

The Rubins figured offering such an opportunity could be a way of identifying those individuals who want to expand their leadership, enhance their involvement in the Jewish community and solidify their Jewish identity. They hoped those chosen for the trip would find ways of getting involved once back from Israel.

“We felt that if these young people were going to be leaders in the community, trying to educate and raise funds for the Federation or various other organizations that might be connected with Israel, they needed to go and see it firsthand,” Pam Rubin said.

Bonding in Israel

Margo Schwartz, development associate for the Jewish Federation, led the journey, executing the Rubin’s concept. She planned the itinerary while developing the themes and flow of the experience. Schwartz explained that after promoting the trip to the local Jewish community, 40 applications were received. A small selection committee, comprised of lay leaders and high-level young leadership in the community, reviewed the submissions which involved answering in-depth questions and writing an essay.

The final group chosen included a chiropractor, a freelance video producer, attorneys, accountants, a speech therapist, an entrepreneur, a stay-at-home mom and a state senator. Two spouses who had traveled to Israel before also went along.

“The group really bonded,” said Elizabeth Carp, video producer. “It was great to meet people in the community that you didn’t know and discover other Jews that are connected in the community.”

Carp mentioned that one special part of this trip was being with people her own age, all having this unique experience together. “We were there with fresh eyes, learning,” she said. “Everyone on the trip was really engaged; everyone asked a lot of questions.”

“It was eye-opening,” said Missouri State Sen. Jeff Smith. “I was not deeply immersed in the Jewish community growing up. Going on this trip with fellow Jews and then being around Jews from all over the world that made aliyah was inspiring. I realized that there is so much more I could do to be a contributing member of the Jewish community here.”

Jim Levey, an attorney and trip co-chair, said the journey accomplished its goal in the sense that he feels a much closer connection to Israel and to that part of the world. “It’s more concrete now,” he explained. “To smell the place and see the place and recognize how small the country is, how fragile the balance, sealed the connection much more.”

Many participants marveled at how physically close everything is there. “In the Old City of Jerusalem, the proximity really hits you,” said Levey. “Unless you go, it’s tough to understand that literally within a few hundred feet of each other are the holy sites associated with three religions. It’s shocking.”

Smith concurred. “You realize that a two-state solution is a lot more difficult than you ever imagined. Drawing a line is just not that easy because everything is so woven and intermingled.”

Another highlight was the connections that were made. The group ate dinner in Israelis’ homes and spent quite a bit of time with four lone soldiers.

“Meeting real people made the whole experience so much more tangible,” said Carp. “These people are just like you; raising families, living their lives, but yet they have unique challenges. You can speak to them directly and learn about those things. Those conversations gave me a better understanding of what it’s like to actually live in Israel.”

Members of the group said their trip not only helped them feel a new-found appreciation for their heritage, but made them recognize the tenacity and determination of the Jewish people. “Seeing what they’ve done to transform the countryside into perhaps the most technologically advanced nation in the world in the middle of the desert is nothing short of amazing,” said Smith.

Levey said that technology is not something the media focuses on, but maintains that Israel’s contributions in the last few decades are significant, including cell phone technology and the M2A or “gut cam.” This device is swallowed like a pill and travels through the digestive system, helping physicians diagnose tumors, internal bleeding and lesions. When the group went to Yokneam-Megiddo, St. Louis’ Partnership 2000 city, they toured a digital X-ray technology company. “The area felt somewhat like Silicon Valley or Austin, a high-tech growth region where entrepreneurism thrives,” Levey said.

Lasting impact

Once back home, the group was required to meet with Schwartz and participate in comprehensive interviews. After analyzing the results, she connected each participant to something meaningful in the local Jewish community. Her goal is to keep the trip alive and help participants act as ambassadors for Israel.

So far, one participant addressed a group of college-age students before their Birthright Israel trip. Another spoke at an Anti-Defamation League board meeting. B’nai Amoona set aside time at the Shabbat service on Feb. 14 so four participants could give testimonies about their trip.

The participants feel grateful for the Rubins’ generosity. “I can’t say enough about the Rubins and why they thought this was important for getting the next generation of young leaders engaged and involved,” said Carp. The Rubins are thrilled that the trip turned out so well and have decided to fund the trip again in 2009. “It ended up much more emotional for us than we had originally thought,” said Pam Rubin. “We are proud of them. We are real pleased with the outcome.”

For more information on the 2009 Rubin Israel Experience, contact Margo Schwartz at 314-442-3865 or [email protected]