No Longer the Israel of their Youth, Baby Boomers See Israel in New Light
For nearly 20 years, over 500,000 young people have traveled to Israel with Taglit-Birthright for an unforgettable opportunity to connect with their Jewish homeland. Alleviating the fear that the next generation of Jews will drift further apart 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, along with newfound appreciation for Judaism and Zionism, and pride in their heritage.
But loving all that Israel has to offer is not just for the younger generation. Today, Americans well over 55 are enjoying more exciting adventures themselves and also expanding their horizons. A recent Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) Sunshine Tour proves this new reality in senior traveling. “This is not the same Israel I grew up with,” said one of the tour’s recent participants. “This is an adventure in context with the land. It is living history and it’s really spectacular.”
Of the 46 participants on the early September trip, 36 had never before been to Israel, demonstrating the importance of also introducing older generations to Israel, just like those in their early 20s.
“I had always wanted to go to Israel and have never been before,” said Al Wolf, from Detroit, MI. “We were looking at a synagogue trip, but we wanted to go with contemporaries with interests similar to ours. 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, and it’s time your parents and grandparents saw it too.
“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.”
As a geriatric physician, Dr. Wolf saw the opportunity to enable active seniors to travel through Israel in a new light. However, what was once billed as “senior mission,” the Sunshine Tour is now more a luxury and exploratory adventure, which includes some 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,” added Jeff Wien, from Chicago. “Yes, I’m getting on in age, but I didn’t want to go on a trip for altecockers [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.”
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 Forces 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 that they had grown up with in Hebrew school 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,” remarked Jewish National Fund-USA’s stalwart Chief Planned Giving Officer Matt Bernstein. “We went out for a night in Tel Aviv at one of the local cafes, and if you didn’t know that you were in Israel, one would think they were in Paris, Vienna, or any world-class city.”
Israel has far outpaced most of the world in emerging 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 a variety of generations today are seeing Israel with eyes wide open and with more opportunities to experience a variety of tours and adventures. For more info on travel to Israel with Jewish National Fund, call 866.563.8687 or visit jnf.org/travel.