Israel Study Abroad an Expanding Option for High School Students

November 23, 2012 11:46 am 0 comments

Participants of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) program study in a cave near the Madras Ruins just south of Jerusalem. Photo: Lisë Stern.

ADULLAM PARK, ISRAEL—I sit in a cave near the Madras Ruins just south of Jerusalem, my legs dusty with the powdery chalk of the rock floor. I’m surrounded by 17 high school students, all busily unfolding oversized maps as their teacher, Rabbi Aubrey Isaacs, instructs them to mark where we are. I see other circled cities and towns—places these students have visited since arriving at the end of August.

This onsite “classroom” is one of many tiyulim, or fieldtrips, the group of sophomores, juniors, and seniors is experiencing this fall. They are the inaugural full-semester class participating in the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) program, based in newly built dorms at the Eshel Hanasi agricultural school in the Negev.

AMHSI, an unaffiliated pluralistic institution, has been around since 1972, offering six- and eight-week sessions throughout the year near Tel Aviv in Hod Hasharon at the Mosenson Youth Village. The program has over 20,000 graduates, including popular singer Matisyahu and The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger, as well as numerous rabbis and community leaders.

While there have long been college study abroad choices and a recent proliferation of gap-year programs in Israel, not to mention summer youth group trips, AMHSI is just the third organization to offer a high school semester option.

The philosophy of AMHSI is to offer high school students chronological experiential learning in Israel. The curriculum includes a Core course covering Jewish history from the bible on, and students travel to the places they learn about (they also can get college credits for the course from the University of Miami). Isaacs, who taught Core in the eight-week program, has been brought in to head the new semester program. “Investing in the Negev is investing in the future of Israel,” he says. “The semester offers much more, things two months can’t offer. I think the kids feel that they are actively involved in building the program with us.”

“They call us guinea pigs,” laughs Isaac Tarlin, a sophomore from Sharon, Mass.

This is Rebekah Davis’s first time in Israel; her mother attended the eight-week program in the 1980s. “She’d always talk about this trip and how great it was,” she says. The sophomore from Miami hadn’t gone to Hebrew school, “So everything in Core is new for me.” Leana Silverberg, a junior who attends a day school in New Jersey, had been to Israel before, “But not on such an educational level,” she says. “At school, we’re learning about Tanach, but I wanted to live it, not just learn it.” Ben Brent, a 10th-grader from Orlando, is a veteran traveler to Israel (this is his 11th time here) who is keeping an ongoing blog called The Temporary Israeli.

Rabbi Morris Kipper and his wife Lenore of Coral Gables, Fla., started AMHSI in 1972. A decade later, third-generation developer Stephen Muss was looking for a way to honor his late father, Alexander. “I never went to college,” Muss says, “I barely got out of high school. I’m kind of proud that I’m involved in this superior educational program. It’s just been an extraordinary opportunity for me to help Israel.”

Muss, 84, has big plans to expand the scope of AMHSI. “I have a dream, a hope, a prayer to have 5,000 teenagers come to AMHSI from all over the Diaspora every year,” Muss says. “Jewish continuity depends on Jewish teenagers from all over the world having a meaningful experience in Israel, in a meaningful educational program.”

The Union for Reform Judaism has held programs for high school students in Israel since 1961; what began as an exchange with Israelis has evolved into semesters offered in the fall and spring, known as NFTY-EIE (North American Federation of Temple Youth Eisendrath International Exchange). Since 2001, EIE has been located in the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem, on the grounds of Kibbutz Tzuba. “Part of our program is that it is part of the larger Reform Movement,” says Leah Guskin, director of marketing and recruitment. “Kids go to URJ summer camps, and those feed into EIE, and when they go home, they go back to those communities.”

More than 100 students attend each year, and over 2,000 have completed EIE. This year, 20 students from around the U.S. are enrolled for the fall. Shaina Wolinsky, a junior from Cleveland, is in Israel for the first time. She heard of the program through her URJ summer camp, and thought it would be great to spend a semester with a bunch of friends. Those friends are all new—she knew no one when she arrived. Hannah Hochberg-Miller, from Ventura, Calif., is in Israel for her third time. “I like the independence,” she says. “Living with girlfriends, not parents, is very cool.”

Guskin says more than 80 students from 20 states are now enrolled for the spring semester. Like AMHSI, the program includes a stint in Gadna (an introduction to the Israeli army), a Yam le Yam hike (Sea to Sea, a four-day trek between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean), plus a trip to Poland.

The Conservative movement’s Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (literally Ramah High School Jerusalem), known as TRY, is a semester-long program offered in the spring for students in grades 10 to 12. It’s located at the Goldstein Youth Village in the San Simon neighborhood of Jerusalem. There’s also a two month option, known as USY High, which is folded into the semester program; the majority of the 50 to 80 kids enrolled each year stay for the full semester, according to Judy Greene, Israel program coordinator.

“Our program is an opportunity for students to live a complete Jewish life in the Conservative Jewish mode while living in Israel,” says Arie Hasit, TRY recruitment coordinator. “We are about exploring Judaism through Israel, and helping students develop their Jewish identities and their relationship to Israel.” Hebrew is a strong component of this; in addition to the Core course covering Jewish history, plus the regular high school classes like algebra and chemistry, students take 3 1/2 hours of Hebrew a week.

Youth villages are common in Israel, and are essentially boarding schools, often set up for kids without parents, such as refugees and immigrants. A few other schools, including an arts school and a day school for Israelis, are also on the Goldstein campus, giving the TRY students opportunities to interact with Israelis.

Elite Academy, also called Na’aleh, is for the high school student who wants to make aliyah. It’s a three-year commitment, starting with grade 10, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency. Tuition, room and board, and some travel and expenses are covered. Na’aleh is an acronym for “Noar Ole Lifney Hahorim,” youth making aliyah before parents.

Lapid lists all Israel programs for high school students—most are summer options. Masa has a catalog of study choices in Israel, from ulpanim and service programs to graduate university programs.

For high school students who study abroad during the spring semester, the Jewish holidays of Purim, Passover, and Shavuot can provide an even more meaningful Israel experience.

“We do Tikun Leyl Shavuot,” TRY’s Hasit says, describing the tradition of studying all night at the start of the holiday. “Then, an hour before sunrise, we walk up to the Old City. The students see that actual aliyah—going up—is something you can only do in Jerusalem.”

TRY Director Daniel Laufer says the program “definitely affects our students for many years to come.”

“I continue to hear from alumni—even from many years ago—who reassert how profound the TRY program was in guiding their life choices,” he says.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s memoir follows the classic form, telling the story of his years at the Pentagon during the Bush and Obama administrations. He focuses on what he did and experienced personally as secretary, neither writing a broad policy treatise nor recounting the entire history of the administrations in which he served. In so doing, Gates provides penetrating insights about the inner workings of US national security decision-making. Had I been George W. Bush, I would [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z by Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin (Pavilion Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 2013) Sophocles said, “What people believe prevails over truth,” Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z is ideal for the arm chair reader who would like a basic grasp of the terms used in the mainstream media’s presentation of the Arab-Israeli situation as is reported today. This is a book whose time has come. This is a book where the reader gains a [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    JNS.org – On Thursday, audiences around the country can feel what it is like to be William Shatner, the Jewish actor best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek.” Shatner’s one-man show “Shatner’s World”—which was on Broadway and toured Canada, Australia, and the United States—will be presented in nearly 700 movie theaters nationwide for one night only on April 24. Sponsored by Fathom Events and Priceline.com (for whom Shatner has famously served as a pitchman), [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.