As two Atlanta-area teens are wrapping up a semester at Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel, two others are preparing to leave for a six-week summer session at the school.
A grant is enabling Emily Pollack and Carolyn Friedman to head for Israel on Wednesday, June 22, for the summer program, which provides a similar educational experience to what Carlie Ladinsky and Tyler Schwartz are completing this month after spending the spring semester of their junior year in high school at Alexander Muss.
“At AMHSI, we teach history from the time of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah, and Rebecca to present-day Israel, all while traveling throughout the land in chronological order,” said Rabbi Leor Sinai, the co-executive director of Alexander Muss.
The school helps students experience history, he said. “This means doing whatever possible to provide a well-rounded, complete opportunity for their learning experience. For example, when studying World War II and the Holocaust, students travel to Poland, receive an in-depth educational and emotional experience that provides them with an unparalleled understanding of the time period.”
The educational experience all comes together at the high school’s Hod HaSharon campus, Rabbi Sinai said.
JNF launched the Impact Fund Fellowship Program in 2014 to help send American teens to Alexander Muss. The fund is offered in Atlanta and four other cities.
The Atlanta fund, the JNF-AMHSI Impact Fellowship, sponsored by Shirlye Kaufman Birnbrey, provides merit-based grants to high school juniors who demonstrate outstanding leadership qualities, academic achievement and community involvement and who have the potential to become active leaders in the Jewish community.
Carlie, a Walton High School student, and Tyler, a Milton High School student, are the first two students from the Atlanta area to take advantage of the JNF-AMHSI Impact Fellowship.
“One of the many reasons why I wanted to spend a semester in Israel was to explore my Jewish identity. I definitely have started to find out who I am as a Jew and look forward to continuing the discovery process,” Tyler wrote. “I have learned so much about myself through this experience. Israel has become my second home, and I am so grateful that I have been given this opportunity of a lifetime to spend a semester here.”
Tyler, who passed on the opportunity to celebrate becoming a bar mitzvah at age 13, has decided to have the ceremony at the Western Wall at the end of the semester this month. His family is traveling from Atlanta to celebrate with him.
“By far my favorite time of the week is Shabbat, not only because we are able to spend time together as a group, but because we have been able to experience Shabbat in different cities all over the country,” Tyler wrote midway through the semester. “We have celebrated on a kibbutz near Eilat, as well as in Ein Gedi, Tzfat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I am fascinated that Shabbat is celebrated so differently in different parts of Israel. We have been lucky to be able to experience Shabbat in so many communities throughout the country.”
Rabbi Sinai said high school students often tell him they learn more in their four months at Alexander Muss than during all their years in religious school or Jewish day school. “Here, they’re living in history,” Rabbi Sinai said. “They’re using Israel as the classroom. It’s a fusion of formal and informal learning. It’s an experiential learning experience that will stay with them all through life. They’re in the place where history happened.”
That effect applies to the experience in Poland as well. After that trip to explore Jewish heritage and the Holocaust, Carlie wrote: “I am glad that I went and now believe that everyone should go to Poland at least once in their life. It is unforgettable and not in a way that most people think. Stepping back into Israel gave me a new appreciation for a Jewish state as my teacher proclaimed hundreds of times: ‘Never forget, we are still here.’ ”
Rising Atlanta-area juniors may apply now for the JNF-AMHSI Impact Fellowship for spring 2017 at www.amhsi.org. Applicants must submit essays, educational information and recommendations and must meet with the Atlanta impact committee, which will select four students for the four-month semester abroad.