The Young Leaders program addresses the dilemma of creating a Jewish and democratic state.
Thousands of adults and teenagers from Israel and abroad, including many Birthright participants, have taken part in the program in recent years.
Several components make up the program:
Our staff work with teenagers in local towns and villages to build a cadre of young leaders. Once a week a staff member or volunteer student supported by our staff meets a group of 16-17 year-olds selected by their school to participate in the program. The group discusses culture, religion, politics, identity and other matters, in English, in an open and free environment.
Throughout the year, groups of Jewish youth and adults from Israel and abroad meet the the high school and college students who participate in the program. The conversations are held in English, and touch upon topics including history, religion, culture and current events in the village and its environs. Questions of democracy, equality, social change, responsibility and leadership are also raised. The encounters are facilitated but no topic is off the table, with the one proviso that participants are polite, respectful and listen!
Visiting groups enjoy the opportunity to meet and discuss issues in small groups, and emerge with a new understanding of the complex challenge of developing Israel as a state which is both Jewish and democratic.
We are happy to accept volunteers who are here on their own or in other frameworks, especially during the summer. If you're interested, contact us. Also, please enjoy this essay about Arabs in the Jewish state.
We are always looking to expand this successful model to new groups of students and young people - funds permitting. If you would like to donate, please click here.
Reflections on Young Leaders, January 2009
Marnina Cowan, a student at Brandeis University, spent the fall semester of 2008-9 at the School for Overseas Students at Haifa University. In the context of a course on cultural communication taught by Dr. Ofer Grosbard, she served as a volunteer counselor in our Young Leaders program, meeting weekly with a group of teens in the village Judeida-Makr, near Acco. She has graciously allowed us to circulate excerpts from her summary paper on her experience:
''Goodbyes are never easy…
''As their bus pulled away, one of the students opened the bus window and they all yelled “We love you!” I had tears in my eyes. I wish others could have been there to witness an American Jewish university student crying as she waved goodbye to a group of Arab teenagers. The goodbye was so hard, because I felt as though I was losing a part of myself. It’s hard to believe that in just three sessions, during a month and a half, a Jew can get so close to a group of Arab students. What made this goodbye especially hard was that I finally understood that both the students and I were leaving the semester as changed individuals. We found a basis for Arab-Jewish dialogue and most importantly, for friendship. Once I return to America I know that I will continue to keep in touch with my new friends. I have already spoken with many of them through the internet and they continue to tell me how much they already miss me. In our newly created family, identity, religion and beliefs don’t matter. All that matters is our friendship.
''I think that my experiences in Makom Bagalil have the potential to serve as a model for Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Arabs and Jews need to be brought together with the sole purpose of being friends and establishing relationships. Political issues should only be discussed after a trusting relationship has been created. Liliane [Marnina's fellow volunteer] and I were only able to discuss politics with the students after we established a comfortable relationship with them. We showed interest in getting to know the students as individuals and then moved onto their biases and opinions. The students of Jedeida-Makr have taught me the true power of family. I have acquired a better understanding of the meaning of respect and belonging. The students and I exercised mutual respect and listened to each other. The Arab students accepted me, a Jewish girl, into their family even though they are not accepted into general Jewish/Israeli society. Perhaps this shows a high level of maturity among the students—the fact that they are willing to accept someone of ‘the other’ culture into their community while their willingness to be friends is not necessarily mutual (by most Jews in Israeli society). This model of respect must also be applied to Jews and Arabs in Israel. Children and adults on both sides must somehow break cultural boundaries and find a basis for friendship.
Overall, I think that Makom Bagalil does incredible work….''