Ensuring young adults can find the information they need to spend time in Israel.For three years before I made aliyah in 1992, I directed a national pro-Israel group whose main platform was encouraging North American students to spend time in Israel on long and short-term programs. My team and I realized back then that time spent in Israel could create or strengthen the Jewish identity of any Jewish student, regardless of background or observance level. Spending time in Israel was the ultimate act of pro-Israel activism.

In the days before the Internet, our approach was pro-active and we used a network of coordinators and student activists to promote Israel programs on campuses and communities across North America. Our greatest challenge was apathy, indifference and Europe as a vacation destination.

“Why Israel?” was the ubiquitous question posed by thousands of students, and we did our best to provide compelling answers. In many cases we were successful as thousands experienced Israel annually, even though free birthright israel trips were not then available. Our success then was based on a few principles:

1) Passion for Israel

2) Understanding that only an ‘Israel experience’ could radically change perceptions and create or strengthen Jewish identity in students

3) Applying activist techniques and creative marketing and recruitment strategies.

Fast forward a decade.

Drawing from my experience in the promotion of Israel programs as well as that of my partners – also a former campus activist – we decided to launch DestinationIsrael.com. This is a new participant recruitment initiative designed to put Israel on the agenda of tens-of-thousands of North American Jewish college students. Within the first six months of the initiative’s launch, the website has garnered thousands of program requests.

DestinationIsrael.com is an outgrowth of an Israeli partnership established during the darkest days of Israel’s terror war. In late 2001, Oranim Educational Initiatives, a Kfar Saba based leader in worldwide Jewish youth travel, retained our organization, Upstart Activist to market its birthright israel programs.

Upstart Activist, an activist training venture that specializes in mobilizing young adults for promoting pro-Israel initiatives, created and executed a marketing strategy that helped catapult Oranim into the top leadership spot among birthright israel trip organizers from that time and until today. In fact, during a time when most birthright trip organizers saw their registration numbers decline, Oranim garnered 400% annual growth in birthright israel participation rates.

As a result of this success, and in recognition that tens-of-thousands of birthright israel participants wanted to return to Israel but lacked information about the quality programs that Israel offers, Oranim and Upstart Activist decided to create DestinationIsrael.com. The goal was to ensure that all young adults could find the information they need to spend significant time in Israel.

Simply put, DestinationIsrael.com is an Israel Programs Portal that compiles the key information about the best Israel programs on the market and allows site visitors to request additional information from multiple programs at the same time by way of an Information Request Form. DestinationIsrael.com then provides the administrators of each program with the names and contact information of those who submitted requests, in frequent reports.

At present, over 20 program organizers are listed on the website, offering individuals more than 70 program possibilities from which to choose. These programs vary greatly in variety, length, content, and target audience. Available opportunities include chances to study, work, and travel in Israel. DestinationIsrael.com staff also provides advice to students and young adults seeking to spend time in Israel and helps them investigate scholarship information.

For institutions such as campus Jewish student groups, DestinationIsrael.com provides an innovative, convenient service called the Instant Israel Fair. Hillels, pro-Israel student groups, and even study abroad coordinators can save time and effort when planning Israel program fairs on campus by ordering program information for many programs at once via the Instant Israel Fair form on the website. The request is then forwarded directly to the different programs administrators who in turn send the program brochures and other information in bulk to the Hillel or Israel group.

I am optimistic that with the help of our initiative we will be able to motivate thousands of young people to come to Israel on short and long term programs so they too can have the wonderful experience I did as a student at Hebrew University. I truly feel that allowing young people to experience Israel will connect them more deeply with their roots, and help them discover the special bond they share with Israel and its people.

My partner and I regularly speak to a variety of groups both in Israel and abroad, mainly on a variety of effective pro-Israel activism topics. We run sessions with all of Oranim’s birthright groups when they are here in Israel.

Only recently I spoke to a group of 40 birthright israel participants and asked them if any of them would return to Israel and want to experience more of everything the country has to offer within the next year. Twenty-five hands went in the air. The opportunity to bring many youth here on longer programs is staring us in the face, and we just have to continue to find new ways of reaching out to our younger generation.

DestinationIsrael.com is the realization of this opportunity, and has received much positive feedback from both the young people who search the site, as well as program organizers themselves. The site truly fills a need in the promotion of Israel programs, and as a result has received a great deal of traffic since its inception in January.

DestinationIsrael.com looks forward to helping promote many additional programs in the coming months, and above all, assisting in bringing thousands of young people back to Israel.