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Summer Experience FAQ

USY on Wheels

What is USY on Wheels?

Since 1960, USY has taken hundreds of teens across North America aboard USY on Wheels. On this cross-continent tour, Jewish teens explore the United States and Canada, discovering new sights and making lasting friendships through their travels. An intense identity-building experience, USY on Wheels allows teens to travel and live with their peers, providing abundant opportunities for developing independence and personal growth.

The trip also builds Jewish identity, immersing teens in meaningful experiences and discussions that strengthen their understanding of and commitment to Judaism. Participants celebrate Shabbat, find new and fun ways to pray (through yoga, crafts, and more!) keep kosher, and build their own Jewish communities on the road, teaching them that they can find a sense of kehilla (community) no matter where life’s travels take them.

What are the age requirements for program?

USY on Wheels programs are open to teens in grades 7-12 at the time of registration. USY on Wheels, East is open to current 7th-8th graders. USY on Wheels, Western Exploration is open to current 8th-10th graders. USY on Wheels, Classic is open to current 9th-11th graders. USY on Wheels, Pacific Northwest is open to current 9th-12th graders. 

What is the typical group size?

Classic, East, and Western Exploration groups typically range from 35-45 teens per bus with each bus grouped by participant age. There are typically 20-30 teens on Pacific Northwest trips.

How is the program staffed?

Wheels Classic, East, and Western Exploration buses are supervised by 5 staff members who have made working with Jewish youth a priority. Wheels, Pacific Northwest usually has 3-4 staff members, depending on group size. Each bus is in daily contact with the central USY office and the program director, who is on call 24 hours a day.

How do teens travel on Wheels?

Teens travel on a fully equipped motor coach, driven by a professional who remains with each bus for the duration of the trip.

What food is provided?

Three full meals and numerous snacks are provided each day. All the food is kosher and supplied by kosher caterers throughout North America.

Where do teens stay while traveling?

Teens stay in major hotels fully equipped with swimming pools and recreational facilities. The number of teens per room varies from three to four depending on the facility.

Teens also have the opportunity to participate in a Home Hospitality program. For approximately ten nights over the course of the trip, teens stay at local USCJ congregants’ homes in a number of communities throughout North America. Teens also spend time with local USYers in each community, participating in activities and seeing what Jewish life is like from Buffalo to Baltimore, Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

Is there a community service component and what does it entail?

Social action and community service projects are an important component of USY on Wheels. During the course of the summer, teens participate in at least three hours of volunteer work. Past projects have included: 

  • Making care packages for US army soldiers at Operation Gratitude
  • Serving as marshals, pumping up the participants at the San Francisco AIDS Walk
  • Volunteering at The Ark, a soup kitchen and food distribution center in Chicago
  • Singing songs at a the Jewish Home for the Elderly in New Orleans

What is a typical day like?

To get an idea of a typical day on USY on Wheels, check out daily group updates from past summers.

DREAM USY

What’s the typical group size?

The number of participants range from 15-20.

How is the program staffed?

The group is accompanied by a team of madrichim (counselors). In the past, staff on DREAM USY have been year-round USY staff members, and Jewish youth professionals. Information on our staff members will be sent to participants a few weeks prior to departure.

How do teens travel on DREAM USY?

Our group flight will leave out of and return to JFK Airport in New York City. USYers are responsible for arranging travel to and from JFK to their home cities. During the group’s time in the Dominican Republic, they travel by bus with the same bus driver for the entire duration of the program.

What kind of food are the teens eating while on DREAM USY?

Participants on DREAM USY will enjoy local delicacies that include many fruits and vegetables. All meals throughout the week are vegetarian and include fish and beans. Salads, pizza and pasta are also provided. On Shabbat, we are provided with meat meals thanks to the Chabad of Santo Domingo. All of the meals take place in restaurants.

What are the accommodations like?

The group stays in the same hotel throughout the entirety of the program. The hotels have air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, a pool, and hot water. All of the hotels we have stayed at in the past have been eco-hotels – hotels that have made improvements to their structure in order to minimize their impact on the environment.  

What sort of volunteer work is done while on DREAM USY?

Each summer, USY partners with the DREAM Project while in the Dominican Republic. Our groups work on various projects with local community members including working at a camp teaching children English, leading art projects, and facilitating sports games in local villages. Past projects have included building a swing set, repainting a school, planting a vegetable garden and trees for shade, and building a volleyball court. Participants have also cleaned and repainted tombstones at the Jewish Cemetery in Sosua. There are currently plans in place to have USY help to build a soccer field and an irrigation system to reroute water and avoid flooding, as well as volunteering with the children’s camp. USYers will leave DREAM having completed 40-50 service hours.

What is a typical day like?

To get an idea of a typical day on DREAM USY, check out daily group updates from past summers.

Israel Pilgrimage

What is USY Israel Pilgrimage?

For over 60 years USY has taken thousands of teens to Israel, connecting them to the Jewish homeland. By experiencing Israel’s beauty and power alongside their peers, taking part in a variety of adventurous outdoor activities, and engaging in interesting educational discussions, teens gain a new appreciation, understanding, and love for the country.

In addition to the classic Israel trip, USY offers other programs including authentic Israeli experiences and social-action focused trips, on which teens can meet Israeli citizens, experiencing the country in a very unique and meaningful way.

We also offer combination trips, where teens can visit part of Europe and explore other significant sights of Jewish history before traveling to Israel. Destinations in Europe include Italy, Poland, Prague, and Germany.

What are age requirements for program?

USY Israel Pilgrimage programs are open to teens in grades 10-12 at the time of registration.

What is typical group size?

Each group includes 20-45 teens.

How is the program staffed?

Groups are led by 3-5 staff members including a group leader, North American counselors, an Israeli counselor, and an Israeli medic. All staff members are qualified advisors, youth directors, teachers, and Conservative rabbis.

Additional support staff in Israel includes various knowledgeable lecturers, tour guides, and other USY personnel. All USY Summer Experience staff participates in an intensive training seminar prior to the trips.

How do teens travel on Pilgrimage?

Teens travel on a fully equipped motor coach, driven by professionals. Whenever possible, we maintain the same drivers throughout the summer.

How do you approach security?

The safety and well-being of our teens has always been, and continues to be, our highest priority. Matters of security always take precedence over all other concerns.

Throughout the summer, trip itineraries are adapted as the situation dictates, to assure the safety of all participants. Changes to the trip may include travels routes, accommodations, and escalation of USY security protocols. We always scrupulously avoid “unsafe” destinations and venues. Our safety record is impeccable as we have decades of experience operating programs under all circumstances. For more information on our security protocols, please see the security Q&A.

What is the food like?

While traveling, teens will have the opportunity to taste the flavors of Israel. Three full, kosher meals and numerous snacks are given each day. Food is provided by various caterers, hotels, and restaurants throughout Israel. Additionally, in some cities teens will be able to go out on their own for meals at select  kosher restaurants.

Where do teens stay while traveling?

Teens stay in hotels and youth hostels, dormitory-style bases, field schools and kibbutz guesthouses. Additionally, two weeks of the trip are spent in Jerusalem at the Agron Guest House in the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center for Conservative Judaism, which time it’s our hope that the city will feel like a second home for participants.

Is there a community service component and what does it entail?

During the course of the summer, teens participate in six hours of volunteer work with “Pioneer Of Tzedakah” Danny Siegel. Past projects include serving meals at soup kitchens, picking vegetables with Leket Yisrael for the hungry, and working with children with disabilities.

For teens who prefer more intensive service-focused travel, we have L’Takayn Olam, which offers 35+ hours of volunteer work and the chance to experience Israel in a truly one-of-a-kind way— by meeting and helping Israel’s people through hands-on service and social action projects.

What is a typical day like?

To get an idea of a typical day on Pilgrimage, check out daily group updates from past summers.

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