Taglit trips must be achieving their stated goal of drawing Diaspora Jews closer to the fold if 29-year-old Canadian David Goodman is any indication. The 10-day tour he took in 2006 managed to transform him from a self-described self-centered marketing manager into an up-and-coming community advocate, a young warrior for Jewish and ecological causes. Last month, Goodman spoke at a Birthright Mega-Event at Bar-Ilan University to inspire his peers with stories of a slacker turned activist.
To hear Goodman tell the story, the road from uninvolved frat brat to Jewish continuity conscript passes through Israel, and the transportation method of choice down that road was a bacchanalian Birthright bus.
"I was not into anything Jewish, or even Israel. The whole concept of it flew over my head," he says of his teenage years and early 20s. But since a group of old friends convinced him to take that fateful trip, he now "loves everything Israel."
Today, Goodman is manager of social innovation for the United Jewish Appeal in his hometown of Toronto. His efforts have raised over $100,000 annually for Jewish causes in the last three years, and he has received praise for initiating innovative programming that effectively engages young adults.
Mainstream Jewish organizations have found it difficult to attract the attention of young constituents leaving the nest. But Goodman seems to have found the sweet spot at the intersection of cool and Jew.
The trip also served as Goodman's first real opportunity to get to know native Israelis, whom he grew to strongly identify with. Goodman discovered in himself reserves of self-confidence, that quintessentially Israeli resource, and upon his return to Toronto, organized an overwhelmingly successful basketball tournament that raised $100,000 for the predominantly Ethiopian-Israeli community of Kiryat Moshe.
"I myself am taking more and more ownership over the future of our generation for UJA than I ever have before," he says.
Elizabeth Sokolsky, vice-president of education and operations for Birthright. calls Goodman a "poster child" for the trip.
"A lot of people keep on trying to figure out what we need to be creating in order to engage the young people - what programs we should be running, what are we offering, should Birthright be doing it, should the community be doing it," she says. "David is the perfect example of a young person who didn't wait to find the organization that he was going to be a part of - he had own vision, and created his own way of wanting to continue the journey."
The current cause that Goodman is most energized about is the greening of the Jewish community.
"I'm obsessed with it; it's like my new Zionism, almost," he says.
But as his passions expand from supporting Israel to saving the planet, he is coming up against institutional inertia.
"I think the mindset in the Jewish community is very conservative, and they don't really understand climate change, and they don't really understand the benefits of creating a sustainable organization." On a local level, Goodman believes that there's lots that Jewish communities can do to lighten the load of their ecological footprint.
"There's so much infrastructure in Toronto: there's Jewish day schools, there's old synagogues, there's UJA-owned buildings. These can all be greened-up," he says. "Invest in them, invest in solar panels, invest in retro-fitting them, and you'll save money down the line. The Jewish community is not going away! In 20 years, you're going to be earning money on all that stuff."
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