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JewishJournal.com

December 22, 2010

Israeli scouting just got hipper

http://www.jewishjournal.com/the_mensch_list/article/israeli_scouting_just_got_hipper_20101222

Eli Fitlovitz

Eli Fitlovitz

By nature, Eli Fitlovitz prefers to stay in the background. The kibbutz-raised Israeli, who came to Los Angeles in 1982, has wise eyes, an endearing smile and a quiet confidence. A commercial real estate broker, he and his wife are now raising three teenagers. What finally forced Fitlovitz out of his life-long safety zone were his kids, and not in the way most teens make their parents uncomfortable.

Fitlovitz signed up his American-born public school kids for an Israeli youth group, hoping it would connect them to their heritage. The kids grumbled. But instead of letting them off the hook, Fitlovitz decided to revamp the group. And that’s how he found himself in a place he had never been before – the foreground. Center stage and holding the mike. A community leader.

The Israeli Scouts, or Tzofim, have been operating a chapter in the San Fernando Valley for 30 years. Based in Israel, with chapters all over the world, Tzofim is a nonsectarian, non-political youth movement akin to the Boy Scouts, with an Israeli twist. When Fitlovitz signed his children up, the Shevet Chen chapter had dwindling numbers and shaky morale. And worst of all, according to the teens, it was not cool.

Fitlovitz set about changing that.

Story continues after the video.

With substantial support from the Israeli Leadership Council, a dedicated committee of parent volunteers and assistance from the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, Fitlovitz moved Shevet Chen to the JCC at Milken, put a lot of focus on public relations in order to raise awareness, generated a flurry of press coverage in the community, upped the quality of programming, initiated a trip to Israel for counselors, raised the number of participants to approximately 200 and helped found a chapter in the city. He also transformed Tzofim’s image: It’s now hip to be an Israeli Scout.

“I wanted to take something good and make it amazing,” said Fitlovitz, emphasizing that the Scouts had a strong foundation and wonderful leadership before he took over as chairman, a volunteer position. “I brought my own spices to the organization.”

But the real revolution is not how teens now see Tzofim, but how they see themselves. The majority of the kids in Tzofim are Americans born to Israeli parents and identified as American.

“The kids are starting more and more to call themselves Israeli,” Fitlovitz said with a huge smile. These kids, who attend public schools and grew up refusing to speak Hebrew, embarrassed by their parents’ accents and trying desperately to blend in, are now proudly flashing their Israeliness. They’re joining Jewish clubs at school, hanging out with other Israelis, blasting Israeli music in their cars, speaking Hebrew and, most significantly, becoming proud Israeli ambassadors and leaders in college.

“Eight of our kids did aliyah last year,” Fitlovitz said. “But that’s not the point. The point is that a connection to Israel means a connection to Jewishness. A kid who feels Israeli is a kid who feels proud to be Jewish, no matter where they are in the world.”

For more info, visit encshevetchen.com.

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