Local Teens Explored Israel with Local & International Jewish Leaders

When I started my position as the Israel & Antisemitism Education Coordinator in January 2018, several program ideas were put into my “portfolio,” all of which touched on engaging Jewish teens.  The question was not whether we needed more programming, but HOW to create programs that would be meaningful and substantive. So in my first several months on the job, I made it my goal to learn directly from colleagues around the country who were conducting Israel programs for Jewish teens.  I spoke with Jewish professionals and educators all over North America and traveled to WashingtonDC, New York, and Chicago to observe their programs in action.   I learned a lot!  Over the summer, we took “best practices” from several programs and started designing the Indy JCRC’s“Israel Engagement Fellowship”.

Our goal was to provide Jewish 10th, 11th, and 12thgrade students with the knowledge, skills, and resources they would need to engage in thoughtful conversations about Israel, particularly on their future college campus. We decided on 8 weekly sessions that would present a range of topics and speakers, and make plenty of room of discussion. We wanted to make sure that our Fellows were given the tools to be critical thinkers, and the space to ask any question.  By doing so, we would be sending a powerful message from the Jewish community to our youth: not only that their ideas matter, but also that by exploring the history, asking questions, and articulating their thoughts and opinions, they would strengthen their connection with Israel.

After reviewing applications, we accepted 10 Fellows into our inaugural cohort from Carmel, Indy, Fishers, and Westfield. The 8 sessions took place between mid-October and mid-December.  Our first session featured an exhibition on the history of Israel from biblical times to modern day from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which gave our Fellows a starting place to begin their learning, and a first opportunity to examine sources for perspective and narrative.  Sessions that followed included a presentation on Zionism from the David Project, and a discussion on the Israeli/Arab/Palestinian conflict using primary source material based on curriculum from the Institute for Curriculum Services.

That week we were scheduled to explore antisemitism but then the Pittsburgh shooting happened. We had the Fellows attend our community’s memorial service.  Immediately after the gathering, which brought in nearly 2,000 people into IHC, our cohort came together to support each other.  I facilitated the ADL’s “Words to Action” workshop, we discussed just how real antisemitism is today, and we named the antisemitic tropes and dog whistles that manage to enter conversations about Israel.

On week #4 Gil Hoffman, the Chief Political Correspondent & Analyst for the Jerusalem Post spoke about several topics, all through the lens of the media.  He answered dozens (and dozens!) of questions that touched on everything from the disconnect between Jews in America and Jews in Israel, to Israeli politics, the embassy move, and much more.

The Israel Action Network’s Senior Community Strategist, Zach Shaffer taught our Fellows to show how to thoughtfully communicate their personal narratives, and importantly, how to build coalitions. The following week we hosted a panel of 7 current college students from Indiana University and Purdue University who are active in various Israel-related organizations on campus.

The Fellowship concluded with an Israel Fair, where each Fellow designed a presentation and booth about a topic of their choosing. Topics included: Israel and the Media, Birthright, Immigration, Ethiopian Jews, Business Technology in Israel, Haifa, the Embassy Move, Israeli Government, Aliyah, and Youth Programs in Israel.  Parents, friends, and community members in January to learn from the Fellows, and congratulate them on graduating which touched the inaugural IEF program.  Graduates received a stipend and certificate. 

I am so proud of each of our 10 Fellows, and know they will accomplish in their future! They even created a group chat to keep in touch with each other and be a resource to one another.