Koret Foundation president Tad Taube said KITT was designed after reviewing research into Israel summer trips conducted by Brandeis University demographer Gary Tobin, who is based in San Francisco. Tobin found that while past trip participants found it to be the most important Jewish event in their lives, many teens have declined the trips because they cost more than their families could afford.
Koret's cost per participant is approximately $2,575, but a KITT subsidy will bring each person's cost to $1,985, compared to the current price of more than $5,000 per participant.
Although the KITT trip will be 3-1/2 weeks compared to the current 6-week trips, Taube said it will cover the same basic itinerary. Highlights will include visits to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Negev, Galilee and the Golan, with programs on Jewish and Israeli subjects.
Trip enrollment is open to any Jewish teen in Northern California who is entering the junior or senior year in high school.
The first KITT trip, scheduled from July 28 to Aug. 21, will be administered by the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay's Israel Center, which can be reached at (510) 839-2900. It will be led by Yossi Cohen Meidan, an Israeli doctoral student in clinical psychology at Berkeley's Wright Institute who has conducted 14 teen trips to the Jewish state.
"What a deal this is," he said. "The cost of $1,985 is practically what airfare alone [normally] costs."
Meidan said families needing additional financial aid may apply to him.
Meidan promised teen travelers will experience "the fascinating story of the Jewish people as an unfolding drama which will involve them as active participants.
"History, geography, the Holocaust, Israel's wars, the peace process, secular and religious lifestyles are just a few of the topics we'll cover while touring youth villages, archeological sites, kibbutzim, the Knesset and universities."
"We'll also have many close contacts with Israeli families, home hospitality, dancing, time to shop, play games and even snorkel."
Upon the students' return, Tobin will evaluate the trip through a $20,000 grant from Koret. Taube said Koret will want to gauge the effectiveness of the recruitment process, the lower cost for the trip and the impact it had on Jewish identity and involvement.
Tobin said he and cultural anthropologist Joel Streiker will conduct pre- and post-trip surveys, personal interviews and focus groups "to provide a demographic profile of the teens and the families, and document changes."
Mike Papo, Koret's executive director, said the findings will play an important part in the ongoing national policy debate on how best to connect American Jewish teens to Israel and to their own Jewish heritage.
Taube and Papo are confident their approach is a good one — and well worth the $60,000 grant Koret made toward the project. In planning the KITT program, Koret staff and board members have been communicating with Israeli leaders such as Yossi Beilin, minister without portfolio in the office of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Beilin, a strong proponent of building ties with Israel by sending teens on visits to the Jewish state, recently expressed support for the program. "The most efficient way to deal with [the lack of Jewish identity] among the younger generation in the diaspora is having them visit Israel…and to overcome the heavy financial cost of such a visit," he said.
The Koret Foundation is one of the largest Jewish-sponsored charitable trusts in the United States, with assets approaching $200 million. Over the past 15 years, Koret has awarded more than $129 million to more than 1,000 agencies in the Jewish and general communities with programs that impact on education, public policy, arts and culture, young people and the elderly.