6 under the radar Israel opportunities

photo credit: David Krco

photo credit: David Krco

When someone visits Israel on a community trip, they leave with more than just memories and photographs—they develop a nuanced understanding of country that is often misrepresented. They learn that Israelis and Minnesotans aren’t really all that different. And they speak up for Israel when it needs us the most.

Minneapolis Jewish Federation is proud to be part of a network of opportunities that strengthen the connection between Minnesota and Israel.


Last fall, Harry Kay Leadership Institute participants traveled to Budapest and Israel to see firsthand the realities of leading Jewish communities across the world. Adrienne Berman, a HKLI participant, sees the trip as the culmination of the first half of their Harry Kay journey.

“In this next phase,” Adrienne says, “it is incumbent upon us to share and discuss, process and reflect, and take action...this is how understanding develops, and transformation can occur for ourselves and our communities.”


For University of Minnesota students who have already experienced Birthright, Alternative Spring Break (ASB) offers a chance to dive deeper into Israel. Centered in the Minneapolis partnership city of Rehovot, ASB provides volunteer opportunities and sightseeing while students live with Israeli peers for 10 days.

“This trip goes beyond a service trip,” says Benjie Kaplan, Executive Director of Minnesota Hillel. “It helps students find their pro-Israel voice and empowers them to be leaders in the Israel space on campus.”


A program of Partnership2Gether, 248 Community Action Network (CAN) recognizes that the divide between American and Israeli Jews is wide—but not insurmountable. 248 CAN brings American and Israeli Jews together to share problems and solutions to building Jewish community—and use each other’s unique perspective to problem solve and strategize.

This January, three participants from the Twin Cities (Libby Parker, Greg Arenson, and Josh Awend) traveled to Israel for a do-a-thon—think Silicon Valley hack-athon, but for Jewish projects—and a tour of social entrepreneurship.

“In just a few short days my world view [of Israel] shrunk from a giant place that seems millions of miles away to a new world at the tip of my fingers. My local community now includes my friends in Israel,” says Josh Awend.

Upon returning to the Twin Cities, Libby, Greg, and Josh further developed and implemented their initiatives and presented them at the 248 CAN Global Summit this May in Minneapolis.


When Owen Harrison applied to take a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC through the MINNE program and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), he didn’t have any particular attachment to the Jewish people. “I just thought, why wouldn’t I take this opportunity?”

After traveling to DC, MINNE connected Owen to  the Jewish National Fund’s Caravan for Democracy program, a ten-day tour of Israel for non-Jewish leaders. Applying for the trip to Israel was a no-brainer.

Now that Owen has experienced both Israel and the Holocaust Museum, his thoughts on the Jewish people and Israel are more nuanced—which is exactly the vision of MINNE and its creators.

When Minnesotan Geir Friiso's Norwegian great uncle died, Geir used his uncle's bequest to fund a program that would educate about the Holocaust and help Israel—a cause close to Geir and his uncle's hearts. Geir worked with the JCRC and the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation to build MINNE, a program that funds non-Jewish college students’ travel to the Holocaust Museum and Israel.


On this ten-day trip provided through Minnesota Hillel, University of Minnesota student leaders of all backgrounds have the chance to explore Israel and the Palestinian territories beyond the headlines.

Students will meet Israelis of all religions and backgrounds, receive geopolitical training on the region, and experience the sights and tastes that make up Israel’s vibrant culture.

“There is very little knowledge on campus about Israel outside of what the media portrays,” says Benjie Kaplan. “Student leaders will return from this trip with a firsthand experience that allows them to speak to their peers about Israel without the use of biased rhetoric. Having allies from the non-Jewish community on campus will go a long way in helping Jewish students stand up for Israel.”


For five Minneapolis high school students, the pen pal concept gets an upgrade with the P2G Teen Exchange. Not only do these students exchange What’s App, Snapchat, and Instagram messages throughout the year, they get the opportunity to both travel to Israel and host their Israeli counterparts.

The Minneapolis teens visited Israel over New Year’s for ten days of sightseeing, volunteering, and bonding. According to Israel Program Specialist Sofya Barth, the program not only creates amazing friendships, but it cements a deeper appreciation for Israeli life, food, and culture.

“The kids want to go to Israel, be connected to Israel, and learn about Israel. I think any connection to Israel is a step toward bringing the Jewish community together,” says Sofya.