Onward Israel receives $8 million to expand and enhance Israel experiences
NEW YORK—Onward Israel, which has engaged more than 4,200 young adults in multi-week, immersive, resumé-building experiences in Israel, has received an $8 million investment from the San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation to expand its programs and engage even more participants. A portion of the funding is designated for Onward’s popular theme-based programs and to strengthen the Jewish educational components of all of its offerings.
“Onward Israel is designed to meet the interests of today’s young adults who seek international resumé-building experiences,” says David Shapira, the program’s co-founder and Board Chair. “Onward Israel is becoming one of the most attractive and fastest growing deep-impact programs in the Jewish world. This investment by the Jim Joseph Foundation will enable Onward Israel to maintain this rapid growth, while continuing to thoughtfully invest in educational content that makes the program both attractive and effective.”
Designed to increase the number of Birthright Israel and teen program alumni who return to Israel for six to ten weeks at a time, Onward offers internships, service learning, academic courses and fellowships—all of which occur in Israel. Over the next year, Onward anticipates increasing the number of participants it engages from 1,520 to 2,200. Its 11 different them-based experiences this year—up from four in 2015—are in areas such as Entrepreneurship and Innovation; Education and Social Services; Science, Technology and Health; Policy and Government; and Sports, Hospitality and Business. These programs are anticipated to engage more than 300 young adults, providing the opportunity for participants to form future professional networks based on a shared professional interest, interaction with Israeli society, and a shared Jewish experience in Israel.
“Through Onward Israel’s range of program and opportunities, more and more young adults connect with Israel and build lasting personal connections to the land and people,” says Barry Finestone, President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “Young adults are especially attracted to these experiences because they add value to both their personal and professional lives. We believe that when Jewish and Israel education occurs in this context, it is particularly powerful.”
Immersive experiences, including those in Israel, are proven to have long-term and deep influences on the life choices of Jewish youth and young adults. A report released last year by Rosov Consulting, which has evaluated Onward since its inception in 2012, shows that the majority of Onward participants return home and increase their engagement in Jewish activities and community. Onward alumni also are more likely take on leadership roles in their Jewish community, including organizing and leading Jewish social, cultural, religious events, and more.
“Even a year after their Onward Israel experience, participants are more engaged in Jewish life than they were previously, and many remain connected to their peers from the trip,” adds Alex Pomson, Managing Director of Rosov Consulting. “Those peer connections are critical to young adults sustaining their new level of engagement. Moreover, the leadership roles that many assume demonstrates the feelings of empowerment and confidence that Onward Israel helps to develop.”
Over the last year, Onward has launched several new initiatives to deepen the Jewish learning experiences within its offerings and has brought on a new Vice President for Education, Scott Copeland, a leading Israel educator. The Jim Joseph Foundation, with its focus to support Jewish education, will help to support and enhance Onward’s educational efforts, which include:
• A new model of weekend experiences, termed “breakout seminars,” in which participants chose options such as leadership, geopolitics and diplomacy, spirituality, social change and desert experience, and create relationships with participants from the full range of onward Israel programs. More than 1,000 participants engaged in seminars in the summer of 2016.
• Options for additional enrichment through the Onward Israel miniversity, which are evening mini-courses during the program on an inter-program basis; a new option for academic credit through an internship enhancement course; and a new model of educational engagement with Israel, which gives each participant a four day seminar on contemporary Israeli society and allows for reflection on the participants’ Jewish identity as a result.
• Facilitating Shabbat dinners (in partnership with OneTable) for Onward Israel participants to experience peer led Shabbat dinners as part of their Onward Israel experience and to foster building community back home.
• A pre-program online Hebrew learning opportunity in partnership with Ulpan Or.
Onward Israel works in collaboration with a wide range of communities and organizations, and partners in Israel with Masa Israel Journey to carry out most of its programs.