There was something fishy about the Sci-Tech Israel program.Just ask Robert, a rising junior at a Westchester high school, who joined 28 other teens from the New York area and around the country for three weeks on this Israel adventure. The teens met Israeli science and technology experts while exploring the country from Sinai to Eilat and celebrating Shabbat.

“At Eilat, I saw Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan surrounding us, and the Red Sea,” Robert said. “We were snorkeling, I got in the water, and there were pucker fish, sea orchids, crabs. That was a first for me, fish all around.”

The teens also learned about marine biology and ecosystems when they visited the National Institute of Oceanography in Haifa on the coast of the Mediterranean.

But the interactive learning went far beyond the sea. The group met with a start-up in Jerusalem that is developing artificial vision into assistive technology for blind people. They got an up-close look at the chemistry behind ice cream when they visited an ice cream factory in the Galilee. And they learned how to measure ancient artifacts during an archeological dig outside of Jerusalem.

“This was my first time in Israel,” Robert says. “I wanted to go because I knew Israel is scientifically and technologically advanced. But I didn’t know what to expect. When I think of the Middle East, I think of a war zone. But I felt really safe and Israel’s doing a lot of great things that benefit not only Israel but the whole world.”

The Union for Reform Judaism Camp Sci-Tech Israel program is one of three Israel summer teen experiences supported by the New York Teen Initiative, co-funded by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jim Joseph Foundation, and operated by The Jewish Education Project.

Next Step Israel, through NCSY, offered five-week summer internships to teens who wanted to explore different professions. And Roots Israel, through Alexander Muss High School in Israel and the Jewish National Fund, provided three-week community service projects for teens interested in environmentalism and social sustainability.

The New York Teen Initiative also offers three domestic summer experiences, including a Jewish teen internship program with older adults through DOROT and traveling food, farm, and fitness experiences through Eden Village and Camp Zeke.

These Jewish summer programs — all part of — help Jewish teens make new friendships, create meaningful Jewish experiences through interest areas, and connect to Israel.

“The main thing about this trip, what I remember most, is the people I was with. I made new friends and we’re still talking on group chats,” Robert says. “I’m hoping we can have a reunion.”

And that’s how a summer of fun can make waves that last a lifetime.

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