April 20, 2010
Reviving the Zionist Dream
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
“We are quite literally the soldiers on the ground doing the government’s work of building up these areas,” Gliksberg said. “Our mission is something that the government, Jewish organizations and philanthropists are quick and happy to get behind.”
The Israeli government, according to Gliksberg, recently committed to help fund the construction of units for 500 more students, which would double the current capacity of Ayalim’s villages. Private philanthropists, including the Merage family from Los Angeles, have been supporters since the movement’s inception and have greatly contributed to its meteoric success. The Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod have also pledged to raise funds to expand Ayalim’s reach. A 12th village will be built this summer in Karmiel in the Galilee.
Along with its rapid growth and increasing momentum, Ayalim plans to reach out to Jewish communities in the United States and begin to involve young American Jews in this modern-day movement. To that end, AyalimUSA, launched this year, will offer Americans ages 21 to 35 the chance to spend two weeks with Ayalim, touring and volunteering at the existing villages and helping build the new village in Karmiel. The inaugural trip, planned for August, will include a maximum of 15 participants, and the trips will be partially subsidized.
“Baby boomers like me remember summers volunteering at kibbutzim in Israel,” said Larry Weinman, a Los Angeles investment adviser who is spearheading the AyalimUSA effort. “This is an opportunity for young Jews to experience Israel like the old days of Zionism.”
Weinman discovered Ayalim while touring Israel and fell in love with the project’s idealism, energy, Zionism and unifying nature, he said. “It’s inside the green line, it doesn’t divide the community, and it promotes something positive that everyone can agree upon.”
Weinman has been working with Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan and other Angelenos, including rabbis who were part of a consulate delegation to Israel in November 2009, to develop programs that will encourage American Jews to participate in Ayalim. In addition to the summer trip, which targets people who have already visited Israel, Ayalim is planning a Los Angeles gala in October and is hoping to create an alternative spring-break trip for University of California students, as well as a semester- and/or year-long student program in partnership with Masa Israel Journey. Applications for the summer trip have already started streaming in, and Weinman is excited by the growing enthusiasm for Ayalim.
“This is the beginning of a great partnership between young Israelis and young American Jews,” he said. “It’s akin to what my generation did years ago to help build Israel, and it’s what this generation has been sorely lacking in its interaction with Israel.”
Gliksberg, who came to Los Angeles in March to speak to various Jewish groups, said he believes that Ayalim’s vigorous, hands-on revival of Zionism can inspire young American Jews in the same way that it has lit a fire under his generation of Israelis.
“When we approached Ben-Gurion University about hosting the first informational meeting for Ayalim, we were told that if 50 students showed up, we should feel lucky,” Gliksberg recalled with an Israeli half-cynical, half-gleeful smile. Instead, “650 people came.”
“People underestimate our generation. The biggest message of Ayalim is that today’s young people are willing to do a lot for thefuture of Israel. And we’re here to lead the way.”