Pew shmew, perhaps that’s what David Ben-Gurion might have said, and yet there is cause for mobilization, as the Pew results have initiated a global Jewish conversation. We, at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), have been doing our part for over forty years and are proud of our record of ensuring Jewish continuity and Israel connectivity; we also know that an extended academic abroad program in Israel is priceless and that there is no substitute for such an experience. Our mission is to transform tomorrow’s generation – today – and while we average one thousand high school students per year our goal is to grow this number to five thousand students per year. Our commitment to grow and enhance our outreach is part of our global plan to enable as many young high-school aged students to forge their link to Israel as possible, we owe this to those who came before us, to our ancestors who could only dream of Israel, and to our future generation of young men and women who seek to forge their link in the chain of Jewish continuity.
AMHSI is an international, pluralistic, college-prep high school study abroad program in Israel where the land literally is a living classroom. An independent survey of AMHSI’s 23,000 alumni found that 88% of our graduates are married to a Jewish spouse, 70% donate to charities, 65% are active in Jewish/Zionist organizations, and 63% are member of a synagogue[i]. When compared to the results of the Pew survey, we quickly realized that Israel study abroad programs serve as an irreplaceable foundation for young Jews connecting to their identity and culture.
Enhanced Israel programming in Jewish communities has been on the rise around the world, specifically in the U.S.
Programs and fellowships have become more and more sophisticated. For over a decade, Birthright Israel has succeeded in bringing hundreds of thousands of Jewish youth to Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel continues to come up with wonderful programs meant to engage the next generation and more money than ever is poured into programming by major donors, organizations and the Government of Israel. And yet, the Pew results score negatively upon Jewish continuity and Israel connectivity. How is it that all this extensive programming promoting Jewish/Israel engagement has yet to make a difference? After all it has been over a decade.
Perhaps, it is because many of these programs only touch the surface of the greatest challenge of our time, namely apathy, and do not impart a significant and lasting impact in our youth’s lives. High school years are the most formidable years, a period of life when curiosity begins to flower and questions of self begin to surface. A long-term program such as AMHSI enables students to actually live the Jewish calendar in the Jewish state, to celebrate holidays, national events, and encounters to have only been reenacted in hometown classrooms or local synagogues and JCC’s. While these engagements are important, there is nothing that beats the study of Jewish history, culture, and Peoplehood in Israel, in the actual place where it all started and where it is all still happening.
As we gear up for our recruitment campaign, AMHSI looks to the global Jewish community extending our hand to all high school students from around the global Jewish community. We have welcomed students from the United States, Australia, Canada, Austria, Panama, Turkey, Germany, and Chile and plan to continue to expand our international presence through our parent organization Jewish National Fund USA (JNF), whose important work in communities worldwide provides AMHSI access to even more high school students than ever before.
At AMHSI, we believe that the solution to our People’s disconnect is to reconnect with Israel, to reengage with the history and the land, the culture and the people. After all, it is here in Israel that we discover the source of inspiration, of creativity and conviction guiding our people for thousands of years. Sixty six years after the state’s declaration, we now see the global impact of such a place, the impact upon global Jewry, and the impact as a nation among nations. Exposing our next generation to life and learning in Israel improves our chances of ensuring that the dreams of ancestors are not forgotten.
We are critical of what we do and of what the rest of the Jewish world is doing because – just like you – we care about our youth; we care about our collective destiny and we believe that a transformative experience is one that takes place over time. The Alexander Muss High School in Israel knows that our students’ time in Israel is deeply impactful, their experience is transformative, the knowledge they gain is internalized, and the love they have for Jewish Peoplehood and Israel is maintained throughout their lifetime. We skew the Pew because we are the solution. With 43 years of experience and 24,000 alumni later, our record proves that long-term Israel programs are better than short-term programs. We hope you agree because as the Jewish world continues to spend time, energy and financial resources coming up with innovative ways to implant Jewish continuity and Israel connectivity into our next generation, we’re doing more than that – we’re transforming our next generation today – in Israel, our classroom.
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[i] Compared to the Pew survey statistics of the general American Jewish population: 56% have Jewish spouse, 18% are involved in Jewish/Zionist organizations, 56% donate to charities, and only 31% belong to synagogues.