Should your child be a Bronfman Fellow?

This week, the Jewish world comes back to rejoin the outside world after an intense month of inwardness, reflection, and celebration that began with Rosh Hashanah and ends with the wild dance of Simchat Torah.

Next week, and in the weeks that follow, there will be a flood of speakers and programs and film series and book signings and lunches and dinners as the gates open and the world rushes back in.

The month has been marvelous, if insanely food intensive (it’s striking how even Jewish fasts end in feasts), and in a way it is sad to see it go. But it’s also true that rejoining the world has many advantages. We plan to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities blooming all around us, and we hope you do too.

As we do every year, we also encourage parents of 11th graders to encourage their children to apply for the Bronfman Fellowship, the program that takes 26 Jewish rising high school seniors to Israel for a free five-week program, and follows up with seminars during the school year, and creates a network of friendships that can connect them to each other and weave in more and more people and connections and opportunities, and will be there for the rest of their lives.

And when I say we, I mean I. This is a personal appeal. My children were Bronfman fellows, so I know firsthand how extraordinary the program is.

For one thing, it gives the fellows a real look at Israel; they see Israel’s success and its challenges, from an unvarnished but loving perspective. Even if they know a lot going in, they’ll  know even more coming out. We have heard recently that high school and college students care less about Israel than their parents do. It’s not dislike or alienation, it’s just a sort of disconnect. This program counters that disconnect.

Bronfman fellows travel with Jewish kids exactly their age — the program is only for high school students in the summer between 11th and 12th grades — but from a wide range of Jewish affiliation, from Orthodox through secular. All the fellows are very smart and accomplished — the program looks for high academic achievers and it’s highly competitive — and they are all Jewish, but otherwise, they represent an entire world of differences.

We live in a divisive time. (Yes, I know I’m telling you something you don’t know, right?) One of the many gifts the Bronfman Fellowship gives these students is the chance to spend five weeks with these other kids, and to learn to talk, argue, squabble, compromise, negotiate, understand, and eventually surmount.

It’s also a leadership program. That’s a squishy term, perhaps not entirely desirable in a culture that so bristles with leaders that followers often are in short supply, but if you are going to have people who fancy themselves as leaders, it would be good for them to become acquainted with what the term means. The Bronfman Fellowship does that.

And oh yes, the students whom the Bronfman people take to Israel also do manage to have fun. And that also matters.

So if your child is interested in the Bronfman Fellowship, please urge him or her to go to, and explore the program. See what it’s about, what it’s looking for in applicants, and what it offers. The application deadline is January 4.

Good luck!

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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