ORT Fosters Next Generation of Jewish leaders
The Israeli Ministry of Information and the Diaspora, in conjunction with World ORT and the European Jewish Fund, brought a group of 32 Jewish teenagers from across 18 European countries to Israel for a three-week youth program aimed at developing leadership skills and giving them a greater understanding, and appreciation for, the Jewish State.
Alongside practical leadership skills such as public speaking and events management, participants learned about Jewish and Israeli history, culture, politics, and religion. Tours and meetings illustrated and expanded upon the classes.
ORT America's National Executive Director Alan E. Klugman noted the importance of building a new generation of communal leaders, saying that the Future Leaders Summer Program "not only prepared participants to be leaders in their communities but gave them a deeper appreciation of how small communities have strengthened their Jewish identities."
They got an especially sharp lesson in Israeli life when rockets from Gaza, launched against Ber-er Sheva and Sha'ar HaNegev, forced the cancellation of visits to the area and disrupted the final week of the program. At the same time that the students felt that they were standing should-to-shoulder with Israel, they were also amazed to see how life inside Israel went on as normal despite the terrorist attacks.
Upon returning to their home countries, the teenagers will initiate a project for the development of their local Jewish community.
"I have learned from the examples and experiences of the others on this program," said Karmela Blank, 17, a student at the Vilnius ORT Shalom Aleichem School in Lithuania. "And we have made connections for a lifetime which we hope will help us. We no longer feel isolated, especially those of us from small communities. When I get back home I will have friends in Paris or Holland and other countries whom I can count on for advice and support."
Aviva Schneider from Moscow added that "everything here has helped me to become a leader. It's given me strength and also a lot of new ideas which I want to realize in my own community."
The program was such a success that proposals are underway to make it permanent.