Rabbi Steven Rau, director of lifelong learning, The Temple
Every other summer, The Temple sends rising 11th- and 12th-graders to Israel on one of four trips the Reform congregation offers teens. Rabbi Rau is behind the Teen Israel Experience and leads the teens from Eilat in the south to the Golan Heights in the north.
He also runs trips for adults and families. This summer alone, Rabbi Rau took roughly 200 people to Israel.
Rabbi Rau had organized a teen Israel program when he worked for a congregation in Jacksonville, Fla. When he arrived at The Temple in 2002, he wanted to do a similar trip with teens in the religious school. When they reach confirmation after 10th grade, they are eligible for the trip.
The journey typically includes 28 teens and four staff members and starts in the City of David in modern-day Jerusalem. From there, the teens visit sites chronologically with a view toward history. Trip highlights include kayaking in the Jordan River, climbing Masada and exploring kibbutzim.
Rabbi Rau said the trip aims to create lifelong supporters of Israel, lifelong Jews and parents of Jewish children.
Eligibility for Birthright trips begins at age 18, but Rabbi Rau thinks that is too late. He offers his trip in part to show Israel to youths before they reach college, where many will face vocal anti-Israel sentiment.
“When I became a rabbi and realized kids were missing this opportunity,” Rabbi Rau said, “that’s when I said, ‘This is what we need for our future, for our kids.’ ”