The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (or TJJ as it is commonly known), one of NCSY’s most popular summer programs, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. For two decades, TJJ has been bringing public school students to Israel for a fun, educational and inspirational four-week trip to explore their homeland and connect to their Jewish identity.
Back in 1998, TJJ recruited 35 teens for its inaugural summer. “We were trailblazers, since this was the first program created exclusively for public school kids,” said Rabbi Barry Goldfischer, the founding director of TJJ, who has worked on the program since its inception. “The first year, we ran TJJ like an NCSY Shabbaton, with lots of fun and spirituality. Our goal was to see some kind of tangible growth.”
“We understood that it was revolutionary, and they told us it couldn’t be done,” recalled Rabbi Steven Burg, former international director of NCSY and current CEO of Aish HaTorah, who directed TJJ for the first few years with Rabbi Goldfischer. “But we always had a vision and believed it would succeed.”
Few could have envisioned that twenty years later, TJJ would have touched the lives of more than 4,000 teenagers and counting.
“TJJ changed my life,” said Mo Lidsky, an alumnus from the first year. “Those four weeks shifted my perspective on who I was, and what I thought about religion and the Jewish people.” After TJJ, Lidsky transferred from his public school in Cleveland to MTA and went on to attend Yeshivat Sha’alvim and Yeshiva University.
Lidsky is just one of thousands of alumni for whom TJJ had a life-long impact. A 2015 study by Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College found that 92% of alumni feel emotionally attached to Israel and 95% say it’s important for them to marry a Jew.
The program’s growth and success can be partly attributed to its affordability, thanks to substantial subsidies from the OU, charitable foundations and individual donors. In 2014, The Jerusalem Journey was renamed The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey. “Lee Samson’s vision, and generous philanthropy in memory of his beloved wife Anne, has enabled thousands of unaffiliated public school students to connect with their Jewish heritage through an incomparable Israel experience,” said Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.
This summer, TJJ will have 14 buses in total, with over 400 teens having a transformative summer as they learn more about their Jewish roots and culture by interfacing with the history, people, and land of Israel. “I expect that in a few years, we’ll have 20 buses before doubling the size of the program,” said David Cutler, director of NCSY Summer.
NCSY also offers TJJ Ambassadors, a trip that combines touring, leadership training, and Israel advocacy. Another spin-off is TJJ Ambassadors Poland, which allows TJJ alumni to discover Jewish history in Poland before touring Israel through the lens of Jewish leadership and social action.
A festive celebration to mark TJJ’s 20th year will take place in Israel on July 25 at Yom NCSY, a highlight of the summer when three thousand people from all of NCSY’s summer programs gather for a concert and fun-filled night of music and inspiration. TJJ staff, advisors and alumni from throughout the program’s history will be invited to join the celebration, and TJJ’s leadership will be honored for their work.
A website highlighting the impact of TJJ has been launched in the lead up to Yom NCSY. “We are extremely proud of the fantastic work that TJJ does, inspiring thousands of teens to connect with Judaism and our homeland,” said Moishe Bane, OU President. “The impact of TJJ summer trips is incalculable, and will surely bear fruit for many generations to come.”
“NCSY, and TJJ in particular, has been so successful at educating the next generation of Jewish leaders, and we look forward to celebrating this milestone,” added Rabbi Micah Greenland, international director of NCSY.
NCSY is also establishing the TJJ Founders Scholarship in honor of Rabbi Barry Goldfischer. As a one-time crowdfunding campaign, the goal is to raise $20,000, which will provide a full scholarship for one TJJ participant for the next 5 years. The campaign will go live on June 25.
“Nobody has given more of themselves to TJJ, or any other NCSY program, than Rabbi Goldfischer, so it’s wonderful that the scholarship is named in his honor,” said Rabbi Moshe Benovitz, managing director of NCSY.
With his warm and engaging personality, he has impacted so many over the years, both TJJ alumni and advisors alike.
“Rabbi Goldfischer has been an enormous role model for me,” said Adele Lerner, a 2012 alumna of TJJ Ambassadors. “He is a giant in Torah and education, and yet carries himself with complete humility and gives endlessly to anyone he meets. He has inspired me to go above and beyond as an NCSY advisor and a teacher.”