Ottawa teens taking Israel trips to the next level

Every year, thousands of teens from across North America head to Israel on summer programs. For most, this will be their first time visiting and they will spend four weeks immersed in the culture, history, and fun of the country. Many of these trips are part of teen programs sponsored by one of the major Jewish movements or organizations such as USY EPIC Israel, NCSY The Jerusalem Journey, or URJ Adventure Israel. 

Sometimes, a teen is so moved or inspired by their initial experience that they look for other ways to connect more deeply with their Judaism and spend additional time in Israel. The E-Bulletin spoke with two such teens.

Eliana Mitzmacher is a first-year student at Queen’s University and her family is a member of Kehillat Beth Israel. During her Grade 11 year, she spent a semester in Israel.

 (Eliana is on left) 

EB: Tell us about the program you attended?

EM: I attended Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY). TRY is the only Jerusalem-based high school academic program open to Jewish youth from North America who are interested in learning about their heritage in a Conservative Jewish setting.

EB: Why did you choose TRY and what did you hope to gain from the experience?

EM: I chose to go on TRY because I wanted to go on a Ramah (Conservative movement camp) program to Israel that was longer and more immersive than a summer program. Going on TRY was always something that I envisioned for my future. During my semester, I experienced tremendous self-growth, both religiously and as a person. What I gained from it was truly invaluable.

EB: How did being a committed member of the Conservative movement contribute to your choice of program?

EM: Being a member of Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI) and identifying as a Conservative Jew led me to choosing TRY. There was no doubt that I wanted to attend a program run through Ramah. I was already a camper at Ramah Darom in Georgia, so this program just felt like a natural extension of something I already loved.

EB: What would you want the community to know about you and the experience you embarked on?

EM: I would want the community to know that the experience was truly one of a kind. By going on TRY, especially when I did in 2021, I was able to branch out and make so many new friends and memories that I will carry with me forever. Being able to live and study in Israel, instead of just being a tourist, allowed me to really immerse myself in the culture and learn about a country I felt so drawn to. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go on Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim, and I would encourage anyone to look into it further.

Eliana truly embraced the mission of TRY, which is to use Israel as a classroom, and to provide Grade 10 to 12 students with a transformative experience. TRY combines the academic structure of a school with the values of the Ramah Camping Movement so students can explore their Jewish identity and their connection to the Jewish people as they travel across Israel.

Next, we meet Noah Green, a Grade 12 student at Sir Robert Borden High School. Noah has been intensely involved in Ottawa NCSY since Grade 9.

EB: What program did you attend?

NG: I attended the Kollel Mechina program. Kollel Mechina is a subsection of the Kollel program offered by NCSY. Kollel is a six-week summer trip to Israel with a half day of Torah and Gemara learning and a half day of sports or trips. The main program is for Jewish day school or yeshiva teens and Mechina is for public school teens. Kollel and Kollel Mechina do trips and sports together and each learns in group appropriate for their level of Jewish knowledge.

EB: Why did you choose Kollel Mechina and what did you hope to gain from the program?

NG: I chose this program because I wanted to be in Israel for the summer and had already done TJJ. I was already very involved with NCSY and wanted to do another NSCY summer trip. I was told by Rabbi David Rotenberg, Managing Director of NCSY for Ottawa and Montreal, about this not well-known subsection of the Kollel program. After some research I decided to apply. 

EB: How did being an active NCSY member contribute to your choice of program?

NG: My involvement in NSCY contributed to my choice of program because Rabbi Rotenberg tapped me for the program. However, knowledge of the program was not the only requirement to get in. I had to apply, get two letters of reference related to my Jewish engagement, go through an interview, and actually be formally nominated by my local NCSY director. It felt great to be selected for the Mechina program!

EB: What would you want the community to know about you and the experience you embarked on?

NG: I am a practicing Jew who enjoys learning about Judaism and playing competitive sports, so this program was a really good fit for me. The program showed me both how much Torah I knew and how much I still needed to learn. I would highly recommend this program, no matter how much Jewish knowledge you already have, because the teens, staff, and Rabbis want to help you learn more and will lead you to a more knowledgeable Judaic future.

Both teens had life-changing experiences! We wish them well in their future endeavours and hope they continue to grow their connection to Judaism and Israel.