Sunscreen, SPF 70. New tennis shoes. Hats and shorts.
Just a few items that 16-year-old Madison Singer made sure were in her suitcase as she prepared this week for an educational trip overseas.
Singer is one of 15 high school students from Manatee and Sarasota counties who boarded a plane Wednesday for a 15-day Young Ambassador trip to Israel.
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The group consists of sophomores and juniors selected for the Bob Malkin Young Ambassador’s Mission, a Jewish leadership development program sponsored by the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation.
The purpose? To develop the youths’ leadership skills as they learn first hand the importance of Israel to Jews locally and around the world, said Gisele Pintchuck, development associate with the federation. As the visionary of the program, it was Malkin’s dream to create a fund that would allow American teens from the area to experience Israel in person, Pintchuck said.
Prior to taking off, the group boarded buses Wednesday afternoon outside federation offices on McIntosh Road in Sarasota.
Wearing camouflage T-shirts that read, “Israel ’09”, friends Justin Broadfoot and Daniel Schein, both 16, chatted about a few personal favorite stops on the trip’s itinerary.
“I can’t wait to see the Dead Sea,” said Broadfoot, as he clutched his backpack.
Late Wednesday the group, chaperoned by Pintchuck and federation Executive Director Marty Haberer, boarded a plane at Tampa International Airport. From there, their plane flew to New York to catch the second leg of their flight to Israel.
They are expected to arrive today in Tel Aviv.
Singer, who formerly attended Temple Beth El, said she is pumped to learn more about the history of Judaism.
“At first, it was my parents who really wanted me to experience Israel,” she said. “But then I started to hear more about it and talked to some kids who went last year. They told me it really changed their life, mentally and spiritually — that they got more in touch with the synagogue and the community so I decided I really wanted to be a part of it.”
In addition, the Braden River High School student said she is excited about seeing the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.
“I did pack new shoes, hats and lots of sunscreen because I hear it’s like a hundred-something degrees there. I don’t want to get sun poisoning.”
Sam Blumenstein, a 16-year-old Pineview School student, is also making the trek.
“I decided to go because Israel is a big part of being Jewish,” said Blumenstein of Temple Sinai in Sarasota. “I’m also looking forward to seeing all the sites, including the Western Wall, a part of the old temple that was destroyed a couple thousand years ago.”
It’s the fourth year for the young leadership mission, said Pintchuck. So far, excluding this year’s group, about 60 students have visited the country.
“They learn Israel through their feet,” Pintchuck said. “It’s a very intense trip that covers cultural and tourist activities. We go to a lot of biblical sites and visit Jewish agencies in Israel that promote the welfare of the nation.”
For Haberer, it’s his 31st trip, including his second year of chaperoning.
“These young people are so smart, so sincere and so interested in learning about their origins,” he said.
“For me, it recharges my battery.”
This won’t be Pintchuck’s first trip to the country either. She visited it two years ago.
“When you stand on that ground, it’s enlightening,” she said. “To see the teens experience it for the first time is going to be amazing.”