Like many Jewish kids, I attended Jewish sleepaway camp for several summers. At camp, I was exposed to Israel and a few other topics related to world Jewry, but only in small doses. I knew those subjects were important and I wanted to continue learning, but I wasn’t sure where or how.
When American Jewish Committee’s Leaders for Tomorrow program started in Atlanta, I knew it would be the perfect place to continue learning about issues affecting Israel and the Jewish people.
At our first meeting, I quickly learned that LFT was not your typical Jewish education program. They were not teaching us prayers, stories from the Torah, or giving sermons. Instead, we were taught about identifying and addressing anti-Semitism, advocating for human rights, and understanding Israeli history and society. These are just a few of the topics we discussed that are critically important for American Jewish teens to understand, especially those of us who will be heading to college campuses soon.
At our sessions, I was exposed to multiple perspectives on complex issues facing Jews around the world. At each session, we had open group discussions where my peers voiced different opinions, and I felt confident enough to share my own. I always found it impressive that we, as teens, were given the freedom to form independent views about such complex topics, and to share them candidly with each other.
The session that was most impactful to me was when we were exposed to the stories of declining Jewish communities around the country and world. We watched a documentary that followed several families who had moved to cities with larger Jewish populations and more opportunities for engagement. Before this, I had never considered what it was like to be a Jew outside of Atlanta or another large city. This session helped me realize that not all Jews are as lucky as we are in Atlanta to be surrounded by opportunities to express our Judaism, and that it is our responsibility to protect vulnerable Jewish communities here in the U.S., France, Argentina, and around the world.
Another highlight of my LFT experience was having conversations with leaders with whom I would not normally have access. In our final session, we met with Consul General of Mexico Javier Díaz de León. We discussed various issues that were important to us such as immigration reform, advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, and Iran and the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. It was amazing to speak with an international leader and hear about how his country protects its Jewish community and maintains strong ties with Israel.
My LFT experience was only the beginning of my education surrounding Israel and Jewish issues. After participating in LFT, I am more aware and prepared to partake in conversations I may encounter on college campuses around BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] or anti-Semitism. Additionally, LFT helped me realize that I would like to study political science with a focus in public policy. I feel lucky to have had this experience, and I am confident that anyone who participates in LFT will feel the same way.
LFT applications for the 2019-20 school year are now open. If you know of a rising high school sophomore or junior who may be interested in participating in LFT, they can find the application at AJC.org/News/Atlanta/Leaders-For-Tomorrow. Applications are due April 12.
You can direct questions about the LFT program to AJC Atlanta Assistant Director Julie Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-233-5501, ext. 5032.
Jereme Weiner is an alumna of the AJC Leaders for Tomorrow Class of 2018.