Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thank you for being a friend! Tales of the Mayanot-Friendship Circle trip to Israel

Five years ago the Friendship Circle and Mayanot teamed up to begin a one-of-a-kind Taglit- Birthright Israel trip, catered to young Jewish adults with special needs.

The Friendship Circle is a social outreach program for Jewish youth with special needs. It is run by, and within, the Jewish community, and is run on a volunteer-basis. Hindy Finman volunteers at the Philadelphia branch of the Friendship Circle, which is associated with Chabad. It is Hindi’s firm belief that every Jew, no matter their situation in life, deserves a chance to visit Israel. This belief matches that of Birthright Israel and of Mayanot.

Mayanot were eager to get involved and become the trip provider for the Friendship Circle Birthright trip. ‘Mayanot have been really great’, Hindi says, ‘They really work with us every step of the way.’ The Mayanot – Friendship Circle trip happens once a year, to ensure the best planned and organized trip possible.  It is important to Mayanot, and to Friendship Circle, that this trip provides the best Israel experience possible for the participants. Now in its fifth year, the Taglit- Birthright Israel: Mayanot- Friendship Circle trip has grown in popularity. This year, 33 participants are taking part, 27 of whom are young adults with special needs ranging from autism to downs syndrome, and 6 of whom are college students who elected to take part in this trip rather than a mainstream Birthright Israel trip.

Amidst the backdrop of providing an Israel experience and giving them an opportunity to learn about, and engage with, Israel, the Mayanot-Friendship Circle trip has two primary goals – the first goal is to encourage and foster friendships on the trip. The Israel trip is an excellent opportunity for socializing – the participants take part in experiences which bind them together quickly, leading to close friendships which last throughout the trip and beyond.  The format of the trip encourages a relaxed, social atmosphere which makes it easier for the participants to get know each other and form friendships. The second goal of the trip is to encourage independence amongst the participants. At the beginning of the trip, guidance is given to make sure the participants are fully ready for the day ahead, i.e. that they go to bed at a good hour the night before, but as the trip wears on,  the participants are expected to do things like this on their own, encouraging their own sense of independence and capability.

Spending time with the participants on a particularly sunny Jerusalem afternoon, as they browsed the shops on Ben Yehuda Street, it was absolutely clear what a blast they were having and how much they enjoyed their time in Israel. Daniel Cohen, from Chicago, said that his two highlights were Tel Dan because it is ‘amazing’ and visiting the Wailing Wall because he found it very moving. Daniel says he has made ‘excellent, long lasting friendships’ on the trip. Nicholas Benjamin agreed, saying ‘it has been very interesting, especially the variety of activities. I appreciate the opportunity to get to see and experience Israel.’  Likewise, the soldiers who joined this Birthright Israel trip said it was a ‘meaningful experience.’ Like the college students, these soldiers chose to join this particular Birthright Israel trip. They said the experience has been ‘interesting. We understand a lot of things more now than we did before the trip and we have grown to love all the participants.’

The Taglit-Birthright Israel: Mayanot-Friendship Circle Birthright trip has become an important and anticipated part of Mayanot’s Birthright Israel itinerary.  Mayanot and Friendship Circle are proud of the success of the initiative, which is helping to fulfill their goal of ensuring that ever y young Jew has the opportunity to visit Israel. Mayanot and Friendship Circle look forward to many more smiles and successful trips in the future![gallery]