MOSCOW, Russia - Over two hundred students from Ohr Avner Chabad High Schools in 25 cities of the Former Soviet Union are traveling the length and breadth of Israel this week on the inaugural 'Mekorot' trip, which is being sponsored by FJC President Lev Leviev.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS and the Ohr Avner Foundation share the common goal of providing graduating high school students from 70 Ohr Avner Chabad schools a deep and strong connection with Israel and enhancing their Jewish identity, by offering them a free educational 10-day trip before they enter university and face adulthood outside an immediate Jewish environment.
FJC has initiated 'Mekorot', an intensive program aimed at offering youth a wonderful program in Israel as well as developing leadership skills.
This program was developed under the auspices of the 'Maayanot' Jewish Institute, directed by Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner and Kasriel Shemtov. The 'Mekorot' Program is directed by Levi Shmotkin.
Participation in the 'Mekorot' Program is of no cost to Jewish youth, aged 16-21, with transport to Israel and accommodation in comfortable hotels and daily meals fully covered. Jewish students from over 25 cities in seven countries across the Former Soviet Union are participating in this momentous opportunity.
The trip also offers participants a jeep tours, camel rides, kayaking, as well as excursions to Massada and the Dead Sea. The young travelers will become acquainted with the history and culture of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, meet with Israeli students and soldiers, talk to Israeli politicians and businessmen, and enjoy the friendly atmosphere of a traditional Kabalat Shabbat ceremony.
Each group is accompanied by Rabbi from the local cities, with whom a tremendous lifelong bond is developed throughout the duration of the trip.
Edward Parizh, the President of Union of Jewish Organizations in Belarus, met with the children before they left for Israel. He stated, "These children were born in Belarus. By going to Israel, they feel solidarity with the people of Israel. This trip will ensure that they will become leaders of their local Jewish communities when they return home from this most impressionable trip." More than 50 children from 12 Belorussian cities are participating in the 'Mekorot' Program.
"Judaism was always culture and books or something we studied about", said Julia Menshikova of the Russian city of Perm. "Today after coming on 'Mekorot', Judaism has suddenly become alive for me. When I touched the Western Wall I began to cry", she admitted.
Local tour guides, teachers and the security guards accompanying the students are sure to make the trip an unforgettable experience for the young travelers.
The current summer visit is taking place this week, while many more groups are scheduled to participate between August 2nd and 20th.