Hebrew High unites teens

Perhaps it was yet another Hanukkah miracle – a room filled with hundreds of teenagers so silent you could hear a pin drop. It was Dec. 3, 2013, and the Israel Program Fair was in session. Thousands of miles away in Israel it was 4:30 in the morning, and Israeli Major Amir ben David was awake, in uniform and addressing the students on Skype. He recounted his experience as one of the representatives of Israel who rescued injured people and saved lives from the horrors of the rubble in Haiti after the earthquake.

The Bureau of Jewish Education’s Hebrew High created this memorable evening for students and parents to learn about the variety of Israel’s programs for short- and long-term high school and gap year programs – and for all to learn about volunteer opportunities for adults. The program also featured information about going to Israel, why Israel matters and how Israel makes a difference in communities around the world: from helping here during Hurricane Katrina to secretly saving lives of Syrians injured on the border. The evening was accented with Hanukkah jelly donuts, music and menorah lighting.

“Hebrew High has co-sponsored the Israel Program Fair since the Harold and Jean Grossman Incentive Grant was initiated in 1995,” says Myra Shindler, the program coordinator of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix. “Some families look for a program to fit their child’s interests; educational, sports-related, music or technology, all these types of experiences are available.” National programs at the fair included Young Judaea, NFTY, USY, BBYO, NCSY and Alexander Muss High School in Israel.

A representative from “Volunteers for Israel” spoke about meaningful opportunities for those over age 17 to serve on an Israeli army base in a non-military capacity for one to three weeks.

Not only does the BJE encourage people to go to Israel, it helps finance the trip for eligible participants. The Grossman Incentive Grant is available for all the teen programs, and the BJE offers the Sarah L. Levitz Fellowship for teens who attend a summer or semester program at Alexander Muss High School in Israel.

“An Israel teen experience during high school is a wonderful opportunity for our teens to embrace and enrich their Jewish identity and solidarity with Israel,” says Shindler. “For teens who have continued their Jewish education from religious school to summer camp and to Hebrew High, an Israel experience is the icing on the cake. All our teaching and Jewish learning comes together in such a meaningful way. This is why when the Grossman Incentive Grant was established, we didn’t want teens going to Israel just to have fun, but wanted the Israel experience to be something bigger. That is why we have required teens to take an Israel preparation course before = departing. The more they know ahead of time, the more they can digest and learn while in Eretz Yisrael.”

In addition to the Israel programs, BJE’s community Hebrew High provides multifaceted benefits for teens. Hebrew High has provided positive Jewish experiences for Valley teens for more than 40 years. It is the only program in the Valley for Jewish teens of all affiliations to meet and interact regularly with hundreds of their peers.

Hebrew High is an academic as well as a social experience designed specifically to meet the developmental needs of adolescents. Instructors represent all Jewish movements and include rabbis, school directors, high school teachers, lawyers, writers and entrepreneurs.

“Hebrew High has a most positive effect on the emotional intelligence of our teens,” says Shindler. “Through the variety of discussions that take place in our Hebrew High classes, teens are provided the opportunity to get to know themselves to reinforce positive decision making and to provide a Jewish context to give of themselves. By providing a warm and welcoming Jewish community, we are able to cultivate relationships and lessons that serve our teens beyond their high school years. Teens have so many competing programs throughout the school week, Hebrew High becomes a safe haven, an opportunity to get out, see friends and de-stress for a couple of
hours.”

Hebrew High alumnus Jon Basha credits the program with exposing him to a world that enriched his life in a myriad of ways.

Basha says, “Hebrew High was a life-changer for me. It was where I made my best friends – and I now live with two of them. It was an escape from the regular social circle that I was so accustomed to and was the ideal outlet for me to make like-minded, Jewish friends. Aside from the social side, it was an incredibly rewarding education. It allowed me to study a language that I loved (Hebrew) instead of settling for the languages that my school offered. Plus, I got to study topics with Jewish educators who not only knew their stuff, but also knew how to engage and connect with high schoolers. It barely felt like a class – it was more of a club where I learned and spent time with my inner circle of friends. It inspired me to stick with Jewish programs and ideals as I grew up.”

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