Rabbi to lead St. Louis birthright trip


Although Rabbi John Franken of Temple Israel has been to Israel numerous times, and has lived there for three years, he is planning one trip that will be unique from all of the others: he will lead a synagogue-based birthright trip with 40 young people from the St. Louis area this winter.

“I’ve been a longtime admirer of birthright and the tremendous effects it’s had on Jewish identity and commitment,” Franken said. “I started thinking about the most effective way I can see to it that my own kids from Temple Israel and our own kids in St. Louis get the benefit of birthright. And I could think of no better idea than organizing a birthright trip myself.”

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For those who qualify, Taglit-birthright offers free round-trip airfare to Israel, and covers all all travel, lodging, and admission fees in Israel, in addition to paying for two meals each day of the 10-day trip. The trip is open to Jewish young adults, ages 18-26, who have never visited Israel on an organized peer program before.

The only costs that participants have to cover are round-trip airfare to Newark, one meal a day, spending money, and gratuity for the tour guide in Israel. In addition, applicants must pay a refundable $250 deposit, which is returned upon completion of the trip.

Rabbi Franken said this trip may be one of the first synagogue-based birthright trips that have been offered. “As far as we know, and we’ve checked it out, of the 150,000 or so young adults who have gone to Israel in the past seven years, as long as birthright has been in existence, this will be the first synagogue-based birthright trip,” he said.

“It’s a new model and it’s very exciting for us to help keep our kids connected to the Jewish community,” Franken said. “One of the exciting parts is that it’s not going to be a hodge-podge of kids from different cities, randomly thrown together. Rather, it will be a St. Louis-specific trip, so people can invite their friends and former classmates from high school and hopefully those relationships will be strengthened on the trip and carry over into their lives together in St. Louis for decades to come.”

Franken said the trip will also have an emphasis on getting the young adults on the trip to know people of the same age group who live in Israel.

“It is called Mifgash, which means ‘meetings,'” he said. “It is going to be relatively unique, because we will have a group of Israelis along with us for the whole time, which allows people to experience Israel not just through sights and sounds, but through real relationships and interactions and narratives and friendships with our Jewish brothers who live there,” Franken said, noting that while many other birthright trips have Israelis along for three of the ten-day trip, this trip will have Israelis traveling with them for the full trip.

“When people return, they will feel connected to Israel not just emotionally and spiritually but also through relationships,” he said.

Franken said many young adults find a stronger connection to Judaism after a birthright trip. “The results are very consistently positive. People come back much more connected to Israel, much more invested in and supportive of Israel, much more connected to Jewish history, Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood.”

Franken said that his first trip to Israel, for his bar mitzvah when he was 13, made a strong impression.

“For me, that was a very, very powerful experience and it began a bond that has continued for my life. I have been back more times than I can count. I have lived there for about every three years, and I go back generally twice a year,” he said.

Those interested in the Temple Israel/St. Louis birthright trip can visit shorashim.org/birthrightisrael or contact [email protected]. Registration is available online through the Web site, and the deadline for registration is Sept. 25.