IETA's Inaugural Convening Unveils Future of Israel Educational Travel

The Israel Educational Travel Alliance (IETA), a consortium of over 100 Israel educational travel organizations, programs, and philanthropies housed at the Jewish Federations, held its first major in-person convening in Washington, DC this week. 

Over 170 participants, including 40 Federation professionals and 10 major philanthropic entities, came together to discuss the future of Israel educational travel following the October 7th massacre. 

“All organizations under the IETA umbrella are united in their commitment to building connections with the people, culture, land, and history of Israel, providing identity-building experiences, and strengthening allyship between Jewish and non-Jewish communities whether during crisis or relative calm,” IETA Executive Director Tal Gozani said in an address to the group. 

Israel Educational Travel providers, she said, were grappling “with arguably the greatest challenges this field has faced as we re-visit our educational narratives, messaging of trips, itinerary design, how we train our staff in North America and in Israel, and how to bridge the growing gap between Israel and the Diaspora.”

One key change since the attacks, she noted, was the increase in volunteerism as a core component of the Israel educational travel experience. 

Addressing the crowd, Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut reflected on the gravity of the moment, recalling the immense impact his childhood participation in educational Israel trips had on him thanks to the efforts of his "pretty darn determined Jewish mom."

"For all the pretty darn determined Jewish moms out there who understand in their kishkes that their children need a connection to Israel, but don't know how to fight against the wave of anti-Israel venom that their kids are exposed to every day, or when and how they should encourage their kids to go to Israel in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in Israel's history…each of you in this Israel Educational Travel Alliance must urgently meet and respond," he said.

In the post-October 7th landscape, participants reflected on the importance of Israel educational travel to help rebuild Israel, reinforce its connection with global Jewry and non-Jewish allies, and heal its wounds.

“Israeli Education Travel is the single biggest idea that can help heal the fractures of a post-October 7th world,” said Dr. David Bryfman, CEO of The Jewish Education Project.

“We are not here only to extinguish fires, but to plant seeds,” added Dr. Zohar Raviv, International Vice President of Educational Strategy for Birthright Israel.

Adina H. Frydman, the CEO of Young Judaea Global, said the interactions had significant benefits and importance for Israeli society as well, but required careful and thoughtful navigation. For decades, she said, through the most difficult historical moments in Israel’s history, Young Judaea had vowed to never stop their travel so long as two criteria were met: ensuring the safety of participants to the best of their ability, and providing a meaningful educational experience. 

“I would like to suggest we add a third consideration, and that is that we can ensure that our encounters will be impactful, authentic, empathic, and bidirectional,” she said.

IETA was formed during the COVID pandemic to manage the immediate impact of the pandemic and to build and grow the field of Israel educational travel. Its steering committee includes Jewish Federations of North America, Birthright Israel and Birthright Israel Onward, Honeymoon Israel, Momentum, Masa Israel, itrek, A Wider Bridge, The Jewish Education Project, Young Judaea Global, BBYO, IsraelNow, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and Passages, as well as The Diane & Guilford Glazer Foundation, One8 Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.


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