What is it about Israel that draws so much attention and interest? In this case, it's the positive attention and focus that is in the spotlight. Since the early nineteen hundreds (and possibly millennia earlier), Israel attracted Jewish youth looking for adventures and an opportunity to prove that they are better than what their previous circumstances set them up to be.

The Israeli pioneers of the 1920s were nothing more than city grown teens with zero experience outside of their Jewish ghettos. They came in groups and somehow managed to surpass unfathomable challenges and build the foundations for a new country. Since then, Israel has played a similar role in the lives of unfortunate youth from Chernobyl, the former USSR, Ethiopia and even Syria and Lebanon. The youth were cared for by Israeli kibbutzim, youth villages, and hospitals. It has become Israel's frequent contribution to the world community.

In keeping with that tradition, an NPO called Free Spirit Experience in Israel was established, by inspiration and in memory of Sgt. Sean Carmeli, a lone soldier who came to Israel from Texas. Free Spirit Experience in Israel offers to youth from around the world all the unique experiences and knowledge that are part of a trip to Israel, along with newer wilderness therapy practices. It is a therapeutic-educational 8-10 week program of Kibbutz life and "soft wilderness" expeditions in the "challenge by choice" spirit and philosophy. This philosophy is effective in eliciting motivation and collaboration among the participants, in their own growth and through their life challenges.

It is this collaboration that allows for a significant and tangible change to occur within the two months of their stay in Israel. One of the parents in the program wrote "Our son has become a willing participant in his own growth and development. He has learned to look forward to his future role in this world and is taking an interest in careers such as journalism… He has learned to manage the anxiety he has suffered from for years in a very short amount of time. He is growing up so well…"

Free Spirit focuses on two major types of audiences:

  • Teens who want to go on an Israeli tour but have greater emotional or other needs which may set them up for failure on the less structured trips.
  • Teens who may be struggling and, together with their families, are searching for a treatment program to help them restart at a difficult point in life and grow in more positive directions.

The Israeli aspect of the program adds a significant value in terms of a cultural connection, and the Kibbutz component adds communal care and services.

In Free Spirit, teens with various difficulties, strengths and challenges come together and work on their own goals within a group context, and on an individualized treatment plan. When heading back home, teens feel stronger and more capable to take on life's challenges together with their families. In doing so, they take a positive part of Israel back home with them and may, in the future, be ambassadors of good will, to Israel and it's positive role within the international community.

It is important for the Jewish world to offer services and solutions to families and teens who are struggling with emotional, behavioral, and social challenges, often compounded with other issues and stressors. Within the lively connection Israel has with Jewish communities around the world, this is a major.

Dr. Tamir Rotman Ph.D. is a practicing psychologist, working both inside and outside of the therapy room with youth from various cultures, difficulties and needs. Among others, Dr. Rotman have spent 20 summers at Camp Ojibwa in the Wisconsin North Woods, 2 years as the clinical director at “Lotan’s Way”, a not-for-profit specializes in desert-wilderness therapeutic expeditions for at-risk youth, and a milieu psychologist in residential care settings for troubled youth both in the U.S. and in Israel.