Julia is a senior in high school in Denver. She is also a Bronfman Youth Fellow and shares her experiences in the program. To learn more about her project, go to the Facebook event page.
It was about this time last year that I received the news that I would be one of the twenty-six 2015 Bronfman Youth Fellows. This fellowship year, consisting of five weeks studying in Israel, planning and implementing a service project, and participating in two seminars has been one of the most amazing and challenging experiences I have had.
The Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel’s (BYFI) mission is “that Bronfman Fellows become active participants, leaders, and agents for change in the Jewish and wider world.” This mission is guided by Jewish learning, pluralism, deep engagement between Jews in Israel and North America, and social activism.
During the summer, we experienced these values every day. We lived in dorms with fellows from across the United States and Canada, from different types of schools, and of widely varied halachic observance. We started nearly every day by studying the Faculty’s selected topics. In groups of about six people, we learned how Judaism deals with troublesome texts, the deeper implications of the Purim story, different mitzvot, and some of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the afternoons, we traveled to museums, schools, the Knesset, the Western Wall, Har Herzl, and a variety of other sites. We heard from political activists, authors, politicians, artists, and other great thinkers. During the third week of our stay, we learned with the Israeli fellows and had home-stays with their families the following weekend. Through all of this programming, we had the opportunity to hear each other process, connect, and debate each day’s ideas.
While it was amazing to interact with and learn about Judaism and Israel, it wasn’t always easy. For me, BYFI was the first time I studied Judaism and Israel on deeper levels that explore the nuance, connections, and implications that constitute them. During the summer, I had to wrestle with new, intricate, and often perplexing ideas. BYFI was the first time I learned about the social, political, and economic issues that surround the immigration of Ethiopian refugees to Israel. And until my homestay, I had almost no idea how extensively American culture permeates Israeli culture. I had plenty of new ideas to digest every day.
Luckily, the fellowship year doesn’t stop after the summer. In addition to two seminars during the year, each fellow plans and implements a social action project.
For my project, I put together a speaker series for high schoolers that explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s history from 1900 on. On Sunday mornings in April, college professors, rabbis, and community members will speak for an hour about some aspect of the conflict.
I realized during the summer how little I know about Israeli history and politics. Israel was rarely a subject of my learning in religious school when I was younger. Even Jewish programing I have participated in since then has spent little time exploring the subject. I figure, if I have questions, my peers probably do as well. Over the summer, I loved the small group discussions we had with brilliant thinkers. Through this speaker series, my goal is to bring a piece of that learning back to Colorado. Hopefully this series will inspire other teens to be curious about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s role in history. For more information on each of the speakers, their presentations, and to RSVP, visit the Facebook event page.
While I would encourage every Jewish high school junior to apply to BYFI, any high schooler interested in learning more about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome at this speaker series. With any luck, the series will give students a taste of the exceptional learning I experienced this summer.