Jews-by-Choice Encounter Israel

For most Jews (as well as for those from a variety of other religious backgrounds), experiencing Israel for the fist time is a transformative experience. The Jewish community has already acknowledged this fact with the growth of the birthright israel program for young adults and the impact the trip has on their Jewish journeys.

Mitch Cohen, a Jewish communal professional in Atlanta and friend of the Jewish Outreach Institute, realized the potential of such a trip to positively impact another demographic group just beginning their Jewish journeys, Jews-by-choice.

In a recent cover story in the Atlanta Jewish Times, Mitch chronicled the activities and experiences of Israel Encounter trip for Jews-by-choice from Atlanta and Massachusetts as well as his inspiration for coordinating the program. Mitch writes that after hearing a Jew-by-choice, Janie, speak about her first experience traveling to Israel and the impact that it had on her connection to Judaism, he discovered a missing link he had not identified in his own research about conversion to Judaism or in the support groups for Jews-by-choice that he facilitates in Atlanta. Janie recounted that:

She had felt alone and abandoned after conversion because her pre-conversion meetings with her sponsoring rabbi had ended….She decided to go to Israel to experience the Jewish homeland in an effort to deal with not “feeling” Jewish and to confront her lack of connection to Israel. Janie told us that her trip changed her life and eased the pain of the difficult transition to a Jewish life. After her return from Israel, she felt much more Jewish, and she realized how important Israel was to the Jewish people - and that she was one of those people.

The Jewish community must be more aware of Janie’s and other Jews-by-choice feelings of abandonment. Connecting with Israel is one way for Jews-by-choice to find entry and comfort in Judaism. Support groups, such as the ones Mitch facilitates, are another option for bridging the gap after conversion. The Jewish Outreach Institute has developed our own program, Empowering Ruth, for women who have chosen Judaism who seek additional education and support after their conversions.

Congratulations, Mitch, for a wonderful and transformative Israel experience!


  1. Thanks for sharing about our amazing trip to Israel. Based on the evaluations and experiences shared by Jews by choice and an interfaith couple 60 days after we returned from Israel, we have been granted funding for a pilot Israel Encounter 2008 trip. The Israel Encounter 2008 pilot trip will be for up to 50 Atlanta-based Jews by choice AND interfaith couples raising Jewish children (or intending to raise Jewish children) and we plan to expand the trips to other cities in the years to come. To ensure that the non-Jewish spouse does not feel pressured to convert, we will have three pre-trip sessions facilitated by local interfaith outreach professionals, including my wife, Suzette Cohen of JOI to deal with any concerns. During the trip, we will also be visiting holy sites of other religions. Our ultimate goals are to: (1)support and accelerate the Jewish identity development of Jews by choice, (2)support the choice made by non-Jewish parents to raise Jewish children and (3) create a bond with Israel - its people, its culture, and as the Jewish Homeland. Some may be skeptical about whether we can adequately serve both populations and we’re willing to take the chance.

    Mitch Cohen

    Comment by Mitch Cohen — September 26, 2007 @ 4:43 pm

  2. I want to support the observations that Mitch has made. As Mitch’s partner in developing the Israel Encounter LLC - for which we have received funding from the Marcus Foundation allowing us to provide 50% subsidies for the participants in the trip - it is clear that the time-tested benefits of an Israel experience are relevant to the fastest growing segments of the Jewish community, i.e. Jews by Choice, and non-Jewish parents raising Jewish children. Our anticipated success in this program should be of great interest to other communities and foundations.

    Comment by Steven Chervin — September 27, 2007 @ 8:26 am

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