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...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.