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Aug 9, 2019 4:31 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Synagogue Raised $250,000 For 80 Trips To Israel

A Birthright Isreal group posing in Jerusalem. SYLVIE ROSOKOFF
Aug 13, 2019 4:05 PM

Eighty young adults from Suffolk County will soon be touring Israel, funded by the $250,000 raised by congregants of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach. The Birthright Israel Foundation, the U.S. funding arm of Birthright Israel, launched a synagogue campaign to support trips for young Jewish adults across the United States. It’s first partnership was with The Hampton Synagogue.

Birthright Israel, according to the foundation’s website, “seeks to ensure that every eligible young Jewish adult around the world, especially the less connected, is given the opportunity to visit Israel on [an] educational journey.”

Since Birthright Israel was founded in 1999 by a group Jewish philanthropists, led by Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, the Birthright Israel Foundation has sponsored 700,000 trips.

“It’s really a gift to the Jewish community, to the next generation,” said the head of strategic partnerships at the Birthright Israel Foundation, Daniel Kraus.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founding rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue, said he believes that Birthright Israel has “transformed the Jewish community.”

The trips to Israel range in themes, including active, professional, culinary, spiritual, arts and culture, and LGBTQ themes. The Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, the Jordan River and Tel Aviv are just some of the sights that can be seen on the 10-day trips, which are free of charge for those who go on them.

According to Rabbi Schneier, between the costs of airfare, transportation and other accommodations, the cost to fill a bus with 40 people would cost $120,000.

“[The Birthright Israel Foundation] came up with the idea to identify 10 synagogues, 10 congregations across the country would each adopt one bus,” Rabbi Schneier said. “They asked us to be the first. Typically, when it comes to this kind of philanthropy, congregational philanthropy, we are the first, and we not only meet the challenge, we kick off the challenge.”

On a Saturday morning on July 13, the Birthright Israel Foundation launched the campaign at The Hampton Synagogue. Congregants heard from Birthright Israel Foundation President and CEO Izzy Tapoohi and Vice Chairman Stephen Siderow, who is also a congregant at the synagogue. Birthright Israel alumna also discussed the impact the trip had on them.

Hampton Synagogue benefactor, activist and writer Erin Schrode called on the Jewish community to support Birthright Israel and to “invest in the future of Jewish communities.”

In response, $250,000 was raised, supporting 80 people who will go to Israel.

“In a very dramatic appeal on that Saturday morning, I believe it was under 10 minutes, not only did we raise funds for one bus, we raised funds for two buses,” Rabbi Schneier said. “It was an outpouring, it was an overwhelming response within the Hamptons congregational family.”

Rabbi Schneier said that The Hampton Synagogue has the largest congregation in Suffolk County, attracting 800 people on a given Saturday morning, with some traveling from Montauk or New York City. He added that he was especially pleased that young, Jewish adults from Suffolk County will be able to take advantage of the Birthright trip.

According to a study from the UJA-Federation of New York called “Jewish Community Study of New York 2011,” Suffolk is the only county that has experienced a Jewish population loss, 4 percent, and a Jewish household loss of 12 percent. As of 2011, 85,700 members of the population are of Jewish faith.

The study also found that 50 percent of the participants said that they had a low “Jewish engagement level” and 21 percent had a high “Jewish engagement level.”

“Two buses will be reserved for young people from Suffolk County,” Rabbi Schneier said. “It’s very disappointing that Suffolk County has the highest rate of Jewish assimilation of any region in the [New York] metropolitan area.”

A member of The Hampton Synagogue, Nicole Katz, went on a Birthright trip eight years ago. Since then, she has returned to Israel twice a year.

“That trip really opened my eyes to so many beautiful things, especially being Jewish and coming from a deep-rooted Jewish family,” she said.

Ms. Katz’s favorite memory was when she and her Birthright group brought in Shabbat, Judaism’s day of rest, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the only remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and a sacred site, especially for those of the Jewish faith.

“I remember the sun was setting and my Birthright group, our soldiers, various families and so many beautiful people came together and we were all in a big circle, singing beautiful Israeli songs and we were all united as one,” Ms. Katz said. “The energy that day was so beautiful, and it was an unforgettable moment that will always remain in my mind and in my heart.”

Her parents, Bonnie and Bruce Katz, are congregants and benefactors of the synagogue. Ms. Katz said that she is happy that the future participants will get the opportunity to have the experiences that she did.

“At the end of the day, the state of Israel, the Jewish state, is your country, is your Sabbath, it’s your people, it’s your heritage, it’s your lineage, it’s your history,” Rabbi Schneier said. “And you can read about that in the United States, but there’s nothing like experiencing it. You go through a whole transformation.”

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End israeli apartheid now!
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Aug 13, 19 5:01 PM
There is no Apartheid in Israel.
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Aug 15, 19 8:30 PM
What's your definition of apartheid?

If it means different laws for different ethnic groups, that's exactly what's going on.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 15, 19 8:43 PM
What different laws ?
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Aug 15, 19 9:04 PM
Asked and answered. Remember our discussion about the nation-state law that limits the right of self-determination to Jews in Israel?
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 15, 19 9:19 PM
@ Biba

If anyone wants to see apartheid flourishing today in all its repellent glory, he need only visit the West Bank were 400,000 illegal Jewish settlers are squatting on Arab land under the protection of violent IDF thugs who treat native Palestinians like vermin.

No doubt the "Birthright Israel" tour will include multiple visits to archaeological sites but you can bet that it will NOT include a visit to the victims of bigoted Israeli theology. Those poor souls are invisible ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 16, 19 7:06 AM
Oh that’s right FBHG we did discuss this ..I forgot that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about .

You too HHS....

By Biba (566), East Hampton on Aug 16, 19 10:46 AM
Isn't there a nation-state law that limits the right of determination in Israel to non-Jews?

Are you ignoring its existence, or simply unaware that it's being challenged in Israel's high court for potential violations of human rights law?
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8265), HAMPTON BAYS on Aug 19, 19 11:30 AM
I'm not ignoring anything however you're ignoring the fact that Israel is not the only country with nation state laws.
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Aug 23, 19 4:00 PM
@ Biba

The tsunami gains strength. Proof of the adage, "You call fool all of the people some of the time ... etc."

"For decades, Israel held a special place in American politics, with almost universal support. That has eroded over the past several years but seemed to disintegrate this week in a way that some fear could do irreparable damage.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has been one of the most outspoken recent critics of Israel and has suggested ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 17, 19 9:42 AM
To the editor, Southampton Press:

As reported in the Southampton Press August 9,
"The Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, the Jordan River and Tel Aviv are just some of the sights that can be seen" on free trips offered by the group Birthright Israel.

It was not mentioned that not all these locations are in the State of Israel.

East Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan are occupied territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

After U.S. Representative Rashida ...more
By Tony Ernst (11), Southampton on Aug 19, 19 7:52 AM
As I said HHS as usual you're clueless.

TE....You're entitled to your opinions.
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Aug 23, 19 4:02 PM