For parents of Jewish teens, instilling in their children a passion for Judaism, an expansive worldview, and the importance of Jewish friendships is often of the utmost importance. However, parents are often conflicted about the best methods — the “how and when” of talking about or suggesting experiences that will resonate most with their teens can feel daunting.
Of course there are the consistent activities that are part of family life — lighting Shabbat candles, celebrating Jewish holidays, or attending Hebrew school. But providing a transformative, immersive opportunity like a USY summer travel experience to teens can be one of the highest impact things parents can do.
The value of these kinds of experiences during the teenage years simply can’t be understated. According to a Jewish Week article detailing the benefits of Jewish teen travel to Israel, “Israel [teen] trip alumni report higher levels of Jewish commitment, Jewish belonging and ritual observance years later than do others with similar Jewish upbringings.” The immersive nature of these trips (both to Israel and other destinations) cement for life a teen’s connection with Jewish practice and Jewish friends, not to mention a commitment to Jewish values like tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Parents of teens agree – the value of a teen’s experience traveling with peers and being away from home, simply can’t be matched. As one parent proclaimed, “They learn things you try to teach them all their life in one summer.”
Independence, Growth, and Learning
Traveling with other Jewish teens is a transformative experience. Participants take on new levels of independence by learning how to make their own decisions around managing money, doing laundry, going grocery shopping, and living with others. Teens gain insight into global issues by not just observing the world around them, but by truly experiencing it. This could mean experiences ranging from preparing Shabbat meals for families in need in Israel…to being working with local kids at a summer camp in the Dominican Republic…to saying morning prayers as the sun rises over the Grand Canyon. The possibilities and potential for growth are endless.
Summer travel programs bring together teens from a wide variety of locations to collectively embark on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Groups create communities with their fellow travelers that become more like family — with memories that last a lifetime.
Tikun Olam (Repairing the World)
When teens are able to make a difference for communities in need while traveling, it establishes a lifelong connection to the importance of giving back. Summer experiences can offer participants unique social action opportunities, showing them the value of grassroots action and how individuals can have an impact on the lives of others For example, USY summer travel experiences offer teens the chance to perform projects ranging from serving as route marshalls at the San Francisco AIDS Walk, to building an irrigation system for underserved communities in the Dominican Republic, to creating activities for children of asylum-seekers in Southern Israel. Teens will come home having made a tangible impact on the world around them.
Meaningful Jewish Living
Teens don’t just learn about Judaism while traveling together—they live and breathe it. Whether relaxing with friends on Shabbat, observing kashrut, or creating fresh approaches to prayer, participants are immersed in Jewish life as part of their everyday experience. Teens find new meaning in Jewish rituals and form close bonds with their peers through a sense of shared identity. It’s the joy of Judaism that makes a lasting impact.
Although the value of participating in a summer travel experience like USY’s is incalculable, it does still come with a price tag for parents. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some amazing resources available to you to help you send your teen on the summer of a lifetime.
Ways to Save
USY believes every teen deserves the opportunity to participate in summer travel regardless of financial restrictions. Below is a list of various sources for potential scholarship funding.*
USY offers need-based scholarships on the regional level through the International USY office. To apply, register for a trip (including submitting a deposit), check the box on the application indicating your interest in learning more about scholarships and apply by the deadline. We will be in touch once the scholarship application process opens, typically in December.
Many communities offer funds through their local Jewish Federation or other foundations for teens in their area to travel. USY Summer trips meet the criteria to qualify for many of these. See list of community scholarships.
Your congregation – synagogues often set aside funds specifically to help local teens participate in programs. Call your congregation’s office to see what opportunities they have available.
Jewish organizations – several Jewish organizations have scholarships available. Here are some to explore:
- Jewish National Fund Plant Your Way to Israel
- Hebrew Free Loan Association
- Local Holocaust museum
- Jewish Community Center
- Jewish Council for Youth Services
- Jewish Family Services
- Bureau of Jewish Education
- Jewish Child and Family Services
One Happy Camper – If your child will be participating in USY on Wheels as their first-ever immersive Jewish overnight summer experience, they may be eligible to receive up to a $1,000 One Happy Camper grant. Refer to the program website for more information regarding eligibility requirements and grant availability.
*Other than USY scholarships, all organizations/opportunities listed have no connection to USY and we therefore can not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided nor guarantee eligibility. We advise families to seek financial assistance early in the application process, as all scholarship granting agencies have deadlines and limited funds.
Know of a scholarship not listed? Email [email protected] with information and we will add to our list.