Personal experience at young age is key, summit hears

By David Cohen

What’s your connection to Israel?

Photos by David Cohen – The panel of seven gathers Feb. 12 at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

The BBYO Summit on Jewish Teens discussed feelings toward the Jewish homeland Feb. 12 before the official kickoff of the BBYO International Convention at the Hyatt Regency downtown. Moderated by David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Peace and the director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process, the session aimed to explore teens’ connections to Israel and their Jewish identities.

“There is such a focus on college campuses and the role of Israel on the campus right now,” Makovsky said. “We want to create more of a conversation on how the high school kids feel about it and how that gives us some insight into the trajectory of the kids’ thinking.”

Joining Makovsky were teens Micheala Davenport, Jacob Finke, Eli Krule, Cole Pergament and Kyle Price, as well as a member of the Israel Scouts. The session focused on the teens’ personal encounters with Israel. Each teen took a turn to describe his or her aha moment that brought a stronger connection with the Jewish homeland.

The group also discussed perceptions of Israel at high schools.

After the panel discussion, the group stayed to further discuss connections with Israel.

A key theme of the session was involvement and inclusion for young people. Traveling to Israel to get a personal Jewish experience while young shapes Jewish identity and helps Jewish youths decide to become more involved as leaders and members of the community, Makovsky said.

“The kids who had that personal Israel experience at a formative age,” he said, “that shapes their identity, and it shapes their institutional involvement. The biggest takeaway is that you want to give kids more formative experiences to be able to be more and more involved.”

BBYO’s Summit on Jewish Teens provided an opportunity for adult stakeholders and professionals to explore topics such as leadership, community building, Jewish learning, Israel and service with teens from BBYO and other Jewish youth organizations.