Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Sports Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli basketball fans mobbed Hapoel Jerusalem’s newest player, American pro Amar’e Stoudemire, dancing around and with him during a practice open to the public. On Friday, the team posted a video on Twitter of the happy romp with fans jumping around Stoudemire, while chanting in Hebrew. Unfamiliar with the lyrics, Stoudemire pumps his fist in the air. The basketball player, who has Jewish roots on his mother’s side, also waved a flag emblazoned with Hapoel Jerusalem’s logo. The former New York Knicks forward retired from the NBA […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    The Israeli version of the famed American Burning Man music festival is the “ultimate revenge on Hitler,” according to a column in Playboy magazine on Thursday. In his column, Jeff Weiss also took note of the fact that Midburn — a five-day bacchanal in the Negev Desert, self-described as an event celebrating “a communal life style, creativity, art and radical self-expression” — began on June 8, the day of the Sarona Market terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, which left four people dead. Weiss asked rhetorically, “What could needle the mustached […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →