Mifgash Program Reunites Israeli And American Birthright Alumni In Detroit
It sure does pay to be from Detroit. Good food, good music. Drive an hour and a half Up North and instant vacation. But these perks pale in comparison to the benefits of being a young Jewish Detroiter on one of NEXTGen Detroit’s community Birthright trips. Because, while most Birthright trips travel to the same areas and iconic sites, a Detroit community trip has a special way of connecting local young adults not only to the Land of Israel … but to the people of Israel.
Since 2009, Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit has sent out two to three Detroit community Birthright trips every year for a total of 20 trips to date. During these free 10-day adventures, participants see and do things that aren’t offered on most standard Birthright trips, while the entire time being accompanied by young adults from Detroit’s Partnership Region in Central Galilee.
And, when the trip is over, the journey is just beginning — and for many of Detroit’s Birthright alumni it starts with NEXTGen Detroit’s annual Mifgash week.
“Every year in August, Federation brings all of the Israelis from that year’s trips here to Detroit for an incredible Mifgash reunion,” said Sue Kaufman, Birthright Israel Foundation’s regional council chair.
“Our local participants host the Israelis in their homes, and together they spend a week exploring and learning about our local Jewish community while strengthening and solidifying the friendships that began while they were in Israel.”
Mifgash is translated from Hebrew as “encounter” and is often used to describe the interaction between Israeli and American travelers on Birthright programs. But here in Detroit, an entire week is devoted to building real and lasting relationships among the young adults of Metro Detroit and the Central Galilee region.
“While the Birthright trip in Israel and the Mifgash program here in Detroit are two different experiences, there are a lot of parallels,” said Eviatar Baksis, NEXTGen Detroit’s Birthright Israel expert. “For example, we see the Holocaust Memorial here, and we visit Yad Vashem there. We have a home hospitality night in the Partnership Region in Israel, and we have our Israelis stay in homes here. In this way, we really see how similar our communities are and illustrate how we are all part of a global Jewish family.”
Seventeen Israelis and more than 50 Americans participated in the eighth annual Mifgash week in August, which included everything from a daylong tour of Detroit and visits to local Jewish agencies, to an all-American night of bowling and a day spent on the beach at Tamarack Camps.
“I feel that I have really good friends after this trip. Friends for life,” said Eli Katzir from Migdal HaEmek, who participated on the June Birthright trip. “I think it’s amazing we’re here in America visiting the Jewish community in Detroit.
“In my opinion, the most incredible thing is the hospitality with the hosts. The families and friends are very welcoming, and it’s really fun to hang out and see a real family in America,” he added. “And the city is beautiful. Downtown Detroit is an awesome place. All the history and rebirth of the city are very interesting to me.”
Over eight years, Federation has brought 160 young Israelis from the Partnership Region to Metro Detroit for Mifgash and engaged roughly 800 local participants.
The friendships made through the Detroit community Birthright trips create a bridge between these two communities that has resulted in marriages, lifelong friendships, job opportunities and, most importantly, a greater understanding and love between young Israeli and American Jews.
“Going on the Detroit community trip was a unique experience. We’re able to take the connections we made home with us,” said Alex Siegel of West Bloomfield, who participated on the June trip. “And it’s so cool to say I have friends in Israel now. I was so excited to have them come to Detroit and introduce them to our life here. And knowing I have friends in Israel that I can stay with really encourages me to go back.”
Registration for this year’s Birthright trips opened Sept. 12. For more information, contact Eviatar Baksis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Becky Hurvitz | Special to the Jewish News