Representing nine states and including two sisters from Israel who attend the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, N.C., the participants engaged in learning activities centered on expanding their knowledge of Israel and Zionism. Partnering with CIE on this endeavor were the North American Association of Community and Congregational Hebrew High Schools, the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and Emory Hillel.
The program was part of a new CIE initiative geared at providing more impactful Israel learning for Jews ages 13 to 18.
Supported by a grant from an anonymous foundation, CIE staffers have presented 17 Israel learning engagements to 1,096 teens across the country since October. Presentations have been coordinated with and delivered at Jewish day schools, synagogues, youth group gatherings and national Jewish organizations.
A highlight of the weekend program was the exposure the students received to the vibrancy of Jewish life and the options for Israel engagement on the Emory campus.
A special Israel-themed Shabbat dinner was held at the Marcus Hillel Center on Friday evening. After the dinner, CIE President Ken Stein addressed an audience of teens and Emory students. Stressing the centuries-old relationship among the Jewish people, the land of Israel and the Torah, Stein urged the students to expand their knowledge so they can take pride in owning Israel’s story.
Sessions held throughout the weekend were layered chronologically and thematically. Students and staff explored Israel in the Torah and liturgy, the origins of Zionism, Israel’s first decades, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Israel’s political system.
After Shabbat, we focused on aspects of Israeli culture, screening two episodes of “Arab Labor,” a popular Israeli sitcom that explores issues of race and identity. The show ran on Israeli television from 2007 to 2012. Its first season is available to screen on PBS.
Teens were asked to think about and plan ways they could share in their home communities what they learned during the weekend.
Rebecca Raush, a 10th-grader from Cherry Hill, N.J., said she is running for the regional board of her youth group, and, if elected, “I am going to use the program ideas you gave us and the resources you told us about in order to plan programs and events for the teens in USY.”
Other participants are planning learning sessions in their synagogue religious schools, in their public high schools and on social media.
Parker Siegel, an 11th-grader from Longwood, Fla., summed up the weekend: “My favorite part of the program was meeting kids with the same love of Israel as me.”
The second Teen Israel Leadership Institute is being planned for the 2018-19 school year.
Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org).