By Jennifer Gilbart, FedConnect Editor
Rabbi Dov Oliver and Shevy Oliver – directors of the Center for Jewish Life at Rockland Community College – have been escorting students on Birthright Israel trips for more than a decade. Often described as “magical,” these ten-day trips help young Jewish adults forge deeper connections to Israel and to their Jewish roots, and the Olivers typically bring about 80 students from Rockland County on Birthright trips each year.
However, Rabbi Oliver notes that “for most participants, once they return from the magical ten days their connections usually wane unless they are consistently and carefully nurtured.” This observation led the Olivers to create RBAC – Rockland Birthright Israel Alumni Community, a program of Hillel of Rockland that is funded by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County.
RBAC is designed to continue the Jewish journey that begins on Birthright Israel trips and to expand the connections that participants gain on those trips – connections to their Jewish identity, to Israel, to the Rockland Jewish community and to fellow alumni. RBAC achieves this through programs offered exclusively for Rockland Birthright Israel alumni, including festival celebrations in Rockland and in New York City, Shabbatons, Israel advocacy programs, volunteerism and social/singles events.
The Jewish Federation of Rockland County supports Birthright Israel and has been funding the Rockland Birthright Israel Alumni Community through grants since 2012. One grant supports five festival celebrations (Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, etc.), two Israel advocacy seminars, two Shabbat reunions and a number of community service programs annually. The programs are communicated to alumni primarily through e-mail and Facebook, says Rabbi Oliver, and there are approximately 250 alumni at any given time who are actively participating in the RBAC programming.
Rabbi Oliver admits that the social opportunities can lose their appeal as the Birthright alumni grow older and start families, so for them, a different approach is used. “For the alumni who have kids, Shevy and I invite them to our home because it’s not about meeting people or going to parties for them. They come for dinner and they want to connect as a family, so we keep the personal connection alive that way.”
According to Gary Siepser, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County, “Federation is proud to help continue the Birthright Israel experience by supporting the Rockland Birthright Israel Alumni Community. This program is creating a new generation of informed, engaged and enthusiastic Jewish community activists and leaders.”
Visit facebook.com/RCCHILLEL for more events and information from RCC’s Center for Jewish Life.