Seven high school students from Georgia were among 24 teens who gathered at the Emory University campus in Atlanta from Oct. 26 to 28 for the second Teen Israel Leadership Institute hosted by the Center for Israel Education and the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel.
The weekend featured a mix of activities, discussions and educational games designed to expand students’ knowledge and understanding of Israel and Zionism, and to help them plan learning programs back home.
“Our second teen seminar was a rousing success,” CIE Vice President Rich Walter said.
The 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders also forged friendships with peers from across the country. The teens came from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Michigan and California.
Eleventh-grader Eli Roberts and 10th-graders Noam Friedman, Maya Granath, Harris Jacobs, Lilah Presser, Eden Vainer and Rene Walter attended from the Atlanta area. Walter is a Dunwoody High School student; the others go to the Weber School.
“I came to learn more about Israel and how Israel impacts our lives,” Jacobs said. “I was able to learn about how vital Israel is to our lives and the things that made Israel what it is today.”
The institute is part of a national CIE initiative to provide more impactful education on Israel to Jewish teens. A grant from the Legacy Heritage Fund is supporting the program.
After the inaugural teen institute in April, Walter said, “we wanted to put more of an emphasis on helping the participants understand the many different elements that lead to successful programming.”
The institute organizers therefore brought in Kelly Cohen, the director of JumpSpark, the Atlanta Jewish teen initiative, who led a highly interactive session in which teens had to develop a program goal and use a variety of variables to craft a program outline.
“We also put more emphasis on making sessions more engaging and interactive overall,” Walter said. “As a result, we added a Knesset simulation activity, a session on Israeli hip-hop music and several experiential games.”
For example, the students formed a human timeline representing Zionist and Israeli events from 1881 (the start of the First Aliyah) to 2007 (Hamas’ takeover of Gaza), picked out the eight prime ministers among 16 head shots, identified the Israeli locations of cat photos, and played a version of the Food Network show “Chopped” in which six teams made hummus that had to include such ingredients as wheat crackers, hot sauce and orange Gatorade.
“I have a lot of Jewish friends in NFTY. Every one of them supports Israel, but I don’t think a lot of them know about Israel too much,” Roberts said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to teach them and also talk to my friends in Israel.”
CIE and ISMI emphasize context and documentary evidence in the study of Israel’s issues and history but do not advocate specific views, allowing students to reach their own conclusions. To that end, CIE President Ken Stein led two sessions to help the teens own Israel’s story and confront the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the teens got to choose among two or more options several times during the weekend. The program included the Abrahamic Reunion, a team of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze leaders, and explored different perspectives on Israel’s independence in 1948, and diverse elements in modern Israeli culture.
Jacobs said the seminar will help him advocate his beliefs and speak up knowledgeably for Israel and its existence when he goes to college.
“Israel is the embodiment of freedom and the embodiment of Judaism,” Los Angeles 12th-grader Gavi Kollin said. After attending the April and October seminars, “when I talk to other people about Israel, I’m going to try to come from a much more collected point of view.”
Although Israel was the focus of the weekend, it also addressed anti-Semitism, a topic that took on unexpected immediacy when the massacre occurred at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue while the institute teens were worshiping and studying at Emory’s Marcus Hillel Center.
“It’s just a reminder that there’s always people who are not going to like us, who are not going to like people who are different from them,” Walter said during a brief discussion after Shabbat. “We’ve been living in a time period where it seems like there’s a lot of extreme views on all sides of the political spectrum, and we need to take things we hear very seriously.”
Noa Libchaber, an 11th-grader from New York, said she was amazed when the high-schoolers joined more than 100 Emory students at Hillel for Friday dinner and services. “Seeing that beautiful unification and then the next day hearing about Pittsburgh, it just made me feel really lucky to be a part of a religion that comes together with so much strength and power.”
The next teen seminar in Atlanta is in the planning stages. Follow CIE on Facebook and the web for details on when to apply, and visit CIE’s YouTube channel to see highlights of the teen institute.
Provided by the Center for Israel Education