The Bronfman Fellowship in Israel isn’t for everyone.
First of all — and probably most disqualifyingly to most people of all — the program, five free weeks in Israel, is open only to North American students between their junior and senior years of high school.
It is also small, and therefore highly selective, and its directors are forced to turn away many talented applicants. Only 26 teenagers — 13 girls, 13 boys — can go. The program looks for academic achievement, leadership potential, and diversity, both within the Jewish world and geographically. The application process involves essays, and if you pass to the next round, interviews.
So why should anyone apply to this program?
Because it is simply astonishing.
For one thing, it brings students from around the continent, introducing them to people they otherwise would not get to meet — artists, intellectuals, politicians, entrepreneurs, leaders. It allows them to be in Israel in a way that a less intense tour might not; they are invited to look below the surface.
Perhaps even more importantly, it gives these 26 young Jews a chance to meet other Jews with whom they have very little in common other than their shared Jewishness and shared braininess, and it demands that they devise ways to get along. It is an intimate trip, because 26 people are not that many, and five weeks is a long time, and Bronfman fellows generally like to talk.
By the end of the trip, each fellow most likely will have formed some relationships that will last for years, perhaps forever, and they will find themselves woven into a network that will be very useful to them as they plan their futures. It will plunge them into the kind of rarefied intellectual atmosphere that many people would hate but the ones chosen for this trip often live for. It will allow them to argue in safety with opponents as smart and as committed as they are.
It might change their lives. It often does.
As the mother of Bronfman fellows, I know this to be true. I saw my daughters’ deep engagement with their friends, their freedom to question, to accept and to reject, to love and to dislike. I saw them both struggle with the inherent paradoxes of liberalism, consider but dismiss for themselves the comforting boundaries of small-c conservatism, and I watched the emotional ties developed that summer continue once they came home.
I also heard both of them say that no matter how brilliant their college friends were — and they were! — some of the most intense discussion they’d ever had were during the Bronfman summer.
The Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel program is accepting applications now through January 6. To learn more, go to bronfman.org.