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My Idea: Build on Birthright Israel
by Julie Liberman

Giving back. left: Jackie Ulin Levey (center) with other
Rubin Israel Experience participants, 2008; right:
Levey speaks about her rejuvenated Jewish identity
at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis after receiving a
Young Leadership Award, 2009.

Five years ago my parents, Pam and Ron Rubin, members of Congregation Shaare Emeth, St. Louis, Missouri, launched a program to help strengthen Jewish identity among young adults in St. Louis. Acting upon the research findings that recognized Israel travel as a key factor in building strong Jewish identity, they partnered with the local Jewish federation and launched the Rubin Israel Experience (RIE). Young adults ages 27–40 in the area who had never been to Israel and no longer qualified for Birthright Israel (age 26 maximum) would have the opportunity to experience the wonders of Israel through a 10-day, high-quality, intellectually stimulating, Jewish identity-building trip free of charge.

The RIE program is based on my father’s successful business model at his own company, The Republic of Tea, where he educates and inspires his employees to become tea ambassadors by taking them to where the tea they sell originates—China, Africa, Japan, and India—and immersing them in the cultures there. In the case of the Rubin Israel Experience, instead of tea ambassadors, participants become Israel ambassadors to the St. Louis Jewish community and beyond.

The RIE accepts 10 participants each year, resulting in a very competitive application process. Since the program began, 40 individuals from a variety of Jewish backgrounds have experienced RIE and returned as “Israel ambassadors.” Almost all participants have spoken at local agencies and congregations, written for the St. Louis Jewish newspaper and community website, and served on boards and commissions of Jewish organizations and congregations. Some participants have since returned to Israel with their spouses and/or families, and some have enrolled their children in Jewish day schools. A few participants have even changed careers to become Jewish communal service professionals. Talk about a return on investment!

Just imagine what other Jewish communities could look like if they followed the entrepreneurial and philanthropic approach my parents took in developing the Rubin Israel Experience. The result could be lasting changes for your Jewish community and beyond.

To learn more, contact me at

Julie Liberman is a member of Temple Emanu El in Dallas. She owns and operates Speech TX, a private practice specializing in providing speech-language therapy to individuals with autism.


Union for Reform Judaism.