Jewish Day Schools History Project

From the Day School Archives

Go El Al!
"Study in Israel as a Rite of Passage"

Teens about to board El Al airplane

Students from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, NJ senior class of 1987

For many American Jewish day school students today, a study tour in Israel is a rite of passage. But while Zionist and denominational organizations like Young Judaea, United Synagogue Youth (USY), and the National Federation of Synagogue Youth (NFTY), began sponsoring summer and year-long teen trips in the 1950s, most day schools did not follow suit until the 1970s and 1980s.

The students in the photo above, high school seniors from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, New Jersey (known today as Golda Och Academy), arrived in February 1987 and were based at Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, in southern Israel.

Conservative day schools found a natural partner in Camp Ramah, which developed a four-month program that included an intensive Hebrew ulpan, a kibbutz volunteer experience, and frequent tiyulim (excursions) to popular tourist attractions. Since participating high schools typically sent graduating seniors, the trips were intentionally scheduled to begin after most university application deadlines. The timing also enabled participants to immerse themselves in the celebration and commemoration of springtime religious festivals and civic holidays.

At roughly the same time that non-Orthodox schools began building Israel trips into their academic programs, many Orthodox high schools began encouraging their students to spend a gap year studying in Israel at a yeshiva/seminary.