NINETEEN REFORM JEWISH HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS RETURN FROM SEMESTER IN ISRAEL
(JUNE 5, 2002)-Nineteen Jewish teenagers returned to their home communities this week after completing a full semester at the Reform Movement's high school program in Israel. Participants in the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE), the teenagers spent four months in Israel at a time when few Americans are visiting the Jewish state because of the ongoing terrorist attacks.
Baruch Kraus, principal of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel, said there were a number of changes made in the semester's arrangements and agenda to insure the safety of the participants. Instead of staying on a campus in the city of Jerusalem, this semester's students lived on a secure, gated kibbutz fifteen minutes outside the city. A trip to the Lebanese border was cancelled, and students were instructed to stay away from busy shopping areas in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, the students traveled throughout Israel, visiting the Golan and participating in an adventure program that took them hiking and biking in the northern part of the country and snorkeling in the Red Sea. They met with Israeli Reform teenagers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, ate Shabbat dinners in Reform communities throughout Israel, and spent a week at Gadna, a special boot camp that gives youths the opportunity to experience what life is like in the Israel Defense Forces.
"The students got to do just as many wonderful things as they ordinarily would have done," Kraus said, "but being away from the busy city center helped them focus academically. And just as importantly, they were all still able to have lots of fun."
The NFTY-EIE High School in Israel is fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, as well the Ministry of Education in Israel. The students took a full high school course load, with classes in English, science, math, history, economics, and Hebrew. Their history classes included two days of fieldwork per week, taking the students to a number of fascinating ancient and modern sites. At Kibbutz Tzuba, site of an archaeological dig, they helped unearth the walls of the Biblical city of Tzuba, which had been buried for thousands of years.
The students also traveled to Poland and the Czech Republic, learning about and exploring the European Jewish experience from the medieval period through the Holocaust. At Osweicim, the small Polish town near the remnants of Auschwitz-Birkenau, they prayed at a reconstructed Jewish synagogue.
EIE also invited the students' parents, grandparents, and siblings to spend ten days with them on the program, allowing them to join in the activities. The success of this visitation - and the success of the program as a whole - has been reflected in the increased interest in EIE's next semester.
"The word of mouth from alumni and parents has brought us a registration of 30 participants for the fall semester," Kraus said. "Thirty-six students registered in the semester before the intifada, and despite the situation, we have 30 applicants at this juncture."
The EIE program, which has operated continuously since 1961, has given thousands of North American high school students an understanding of Jewish history, a global view of contemporary Jewish issues, and a love of Israel. Many EIE's graduates have become Jewish professionals and leaders of their synagogue communities.
The Eisendrath International Exchange is a program of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 congregations in the United States and Canada. UAHC programs and services include music and book publishing, youth camping, adult education, outreach to intermarried and unaffiliated Jews, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.
Editor's note: For information about how to contact the students in the program, please call Brian Levinson at (212) 650-4221.