Last week, a group of 15 high-school students from across Israel traveled to Paris, as part of the ‘Young Ambassadors Project’ as advocates for the State of Israel. Their mission also included to forge a bridge with their European peers.
The Project was led by The Israeli Jewish Congress (IJC), together with the Academy for Multidisciplinary Excellence Program (Academy) in Israel. The kids, aged 16 and 17, came from diverse backgrounds and from throughout the country, but all united in their desire to represent a positive image of their country and to connect with their fellow students.
The aim of the Project is to train the next generation of Israeli Jewish leaders how to be better advocates for the State of Israel and leaders in their own communities.
A group of dedicated experts from the Academy, in support with the IJC, teach the select group of promising students a mixture of substantive skills, such as Zionism, the Middle East conflict, democracy, Jewish heritage and about Israel as a modern innovative nation, together with personal skills such as leadership, how to communicate and debate, social entrepreneurship, creative thinking and the art of diplomacy.
The five-day trip to Paris was the culmination of an intensive two year training program, allowing the students to put some of these new-found skills into practice.
While in Paris, the students met with their French high-school counterparts, learnt about the issues and challenges facing the French Jewish community and were received by leaders of the local Jewish community.
In addition, the students were also interviewed by local and international press and had a special reception at the French National Assembly and Senate. The Embassy of Israel in Paris also met with the students, and was instrumental in their support for the Project and helping the students put these skills into practice.
IJC President and Co-Founder, Vladimir Sloutsker, says “the IJC is proud to lead this Project, together with the Academy for Multidisciplinary Excellence Program in Israel,” adding “we look at this as an indispensable investment in the future leadership of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
For this reason, the IJC has identified this Project as a flagship program, combining what Sloutsker says are two of the principal goals of the organization: the promotion and support of Israel in the international community, especially in Europe, and equipping the next generation of young leaders with the necessary skills to become future advocates for Israel and the Jewish people.
The Academy is headed up by Ambassador Yitzhak Eldan, who had a distinguished 41-year career as a diplomat in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including 7 years as the Chief of Protocol and as Israel’s Ambassador to Denmark and UNESCO.
Amb. Eldan says that “today, as an active retire diplomat, I regard it as a Zionist mission to transfer my knowledge and experience to young and brilliant Israeli students”, whom he describes as “the future leaders of our nation.” The Academy’s mission, he says, “is to prepare Israeli youth to the challenges facing Israel abroad”, including in the “struggle for a better image of Israel.”
Amb. Eldan also adds that the cooperation between the Academy and the IJC is “of great importance”, especially because IJC recognizes Israeli youth as “an essential sector in its effort to strengthen the ties between Israel and European Jewry.”
Asked why they joined this Project, the students said at a group session at the end of the trip, it was “in order to convey to others abroad how beautiful our country is and how it is not so different from other countries in the world.”
These kids, whose intelligence, passion and Zionism belies their youthful age, added “we also wanted to create a connection and to form a bridge between Israeli adolescents and others from around the world that would be based on solidarity, open-mindedness, acceptance of different cultures and equality.”
The students also understand being a ‘young ambassador’ is not just about diplomacy and politics, but in their own words “it is also about being a human being” and learning important skills such as “leadership and being able to communicate effectively.”
In many ways this Project was a pilot; an attempt to forge real, meaningful and deep links between Israeli teens and their European counterparts, starting in France, but ultimately throughout other parts of Europe as well.
We recognize that, although still in high school, these students will soon have to join the IDF, study, work and travel abroad – and all this in a day and age when social media permeates almost every aspect of our lives.
During this time, they will undoubtedly encounter people seeking to attack the very legitimacy of their nation and the Jewish people, while being presented with innumerable opportunities to shape the image of Israel for which they seek to strive for.
Not all the students will become diplomats, but all will become ‘ambassadors’ for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Therefore, it is vital to equip them with the skills today that will make them leaders tomorrow.
But without doubt, the strongest endorsement for this Project is from the students themselves, who said “we have deep faith in the changes the youth can make!”
Arsen Ostrovsky is the Director of Research at The Israeli-Jewish Congress.