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Dallas Jewish Week

Young Judaeans back

from year in Israel


by Deborah Silverthorn

Special to DJW

When five students, newly graduated from high school, left to participate in the Young Judaea Year Course program in Israel they hardly knew what to expect. What little they knew changed greatly after Sept. 11 although to hear the students share their stories, they wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

"This was the most amazing year of my life in so many ways," said Alexandra Teig of Richardson. "Every three months we did something different and I loved every section. The emotional experiences are something I am so grateful for."

Teig joined Brahm Booth of Dallas, Sarah Korenman of Fort Worth, Ellie Solimani of Dallas, Megan Sterngast of Plano and more than 220 other students in the program, which has run continuously since 1956.

Young Judaea is the Zionist youth movement sponsored by Hadassah. Founded in 1909, it is unaffiliated with any particular branch of Judaism and is the oldest Zionist youth movement in the United States. Through Shabbat programs, social events and exposure to Jewish and Israeli culture, members become involved in social and educational activities that enhance their senses of Jewish and Zionist identity. There are club meetings, conventions, leadership opportunities, social action programs and inter-city events as well as summer camps for members.

Young Judaea is the Zionist youth movement sponsored by Hadassah. Founded in 1909, it is unaffiliated with any particular branch of Judaism and is the oldest Zionist youth movement in the United States. Through Shabbat programs, social events and exposure to Jewish and Israeli culture, members become involved in social and educational activities that enhance their senses of Jewish and Zionist identity. There are club meetings, conventions, leadership opportunities, social action programs and inter-city events as well as summer camps for members.

"Year Course" is a 10-month program that provides the opportunity for recent high school graduates to live, volunteer and study in Israel. The program is offered in conjunction with the University of Judaism College in Israel, which is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Students may work on a kibbutz, volunteer in a development town, live with an Israeli family and study in Jerusalem.

Teig and Solimani both were in "Kvutzah Bet." "The first three months we were there," said Teig, "we lived on Kibbutz Ketura just north of Eilat. It was beautiful but so different from our lives at home."

"'Different' is an understatement," said Solimani. "We were up at five every morning. I have never done manual labor in my life but we learned so much about learning respect for others and we worked so hard for no money, yet we were paid so much.

"I've spent much of my life learning about Judaism and about Israel, and I've been here before," continued Solimani, "but I never felt this connected before. To study about our history and the language, and then go outside and be there and live it, was amazing. This year was incredible and I'll never forget a moment of it."

There were moments, however, that parents might be inclined to forget and yet, in speaking with the mothers of Solimani and Teig, you might be surprised. "I never once thought to tell her to come home," said Jane Solimani. "I felt that if the powers that be, at Young Judaea, felt it was safe, then it had to be. Looking back, I'm glad we made it her decision and I'm glad she never wavered."

"The reason I did not send my daughter home from Israel during these turbulent times was because of trust," agreed Robin Teig. "I trusted Young Judaea and my daughter and had she ever felt scared or threatened, I would have brought her home, but that was never the case. Year Course is set up with strong consideration for the students' security and safety and participants were divided into two manageable size groups of 30 students with two counselors each; one male, one female.

"There was constant communication between us as each participant was required to have a cell phone. In addition, they kept in constant contact via e-mails and phone calls. After any newsworthy occurrence in Israel, they e-mailed announcements that informed us, fortunately, no participants were involved and that they were safe. We felt 'in the know' most of the time."

"Our kids are the kids of a couple hundred 'Jewish mothers'," said Moshik Toledano, associate director of Young Judaea in Israel and current interim director. "There is no fooling around with the safety and confidence that we have for our kids and that the families have in us. We are in constant contact with the Jewish Agency and while the media and public reports, give appearance of rampant danger, it just isn't so and Israel hasn't stopped living."

"Going allowed me to spend a year with my best friends in a foreign country, my homeland, and study abroad which enabled me to learn about the whole country and its society," said Sterngast. "It was the chance of a lifetime. While there were good and bad times, that happened in the past year, it will always be one of the best years of my life.

"For the United States, it was a realization for what goes on everyday in Israel," added Sterngast. "People die every day in Israel from terrorist attacks and for something like that to happen to the United States, the strongest country in the world was so unexpected. I still hope someday to go there and live and experience even more."

Solimani agreed. "Because this life of stress and concern is 'normal' there, society doesn't stop each time there is a crisis. It is sad, and it is horrible but the strength in the community there is so strong that they will not stop living. It's just incredible."


This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Friday, July 19, 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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