When it comes to establishing young people’s connection with Israel, sooner is better than later.
In May, a cohort of local teens will take part in the Center for Israel Education (CIE) Teen Israel Leadership Institute (TILI). The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle is bringing TILI to the community to provide high school-age students with an academic-level formative, substantive, and immersive opportunity to learn about Israel and gain leadership skills.
Ariel Lapson, the Federation’s Israel and World Jewry program manager, says, “Providing excellent, academic-level Israel education for the younger demographics of our community is a top priority of our programming. The sooner we can engage young people in the meaningful study and nuanced conversation around Israel, the better positioned they will be to develop a strong relationship with Israel and Jewish life in the future.”
To bring TILI to teens, the Federation has engaged the Center for Israel Education (CIE), founded in 2008 and led by Dr. Kenneth W. Stein, who also directs Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel. Stein has taught modern Middle Eastern history, political science, and Israel studies at Emory since 1977. CIE’s mission is to foster a broad understanding of Israel as an integral part of modern Jewish history among students, summer camp staff, educators, Jewish organizations, and journalists.
Stein says teen years are critical for acquiring robust foundational knowledge about modern Israel. “Concepts about their identity are evolving and are structured in their teens. They’re learning to be independent, learning to think of themselves as unique entities, separate from their parents’ guidance,” Stein explains.
Reaching teens about the place of Israel in their identity is especially important in today’s world of instantaneous communication and pervasive media, Stein says. Over half a century ago, he points out, people learned about the Six-Day War by reading newspapers and watching television. “Then, parents and grandparents reinforced the relevance of Israel over months and years; it stuck with us baby boomers. Now, information comes on them with lightning speed. They have few or any filters in judging what is reliable, invented, or to be believed,” Stein says.
Students who have taken part in CIE’s Israel education programs have diverse if any knowledge about Israel’s story, Stein says. “There is extraordinary variation in what they know, learned, or experienced about Israel,” he explains.
The TILI program will include a weekend retreat, two webinars, and an Israel-focused project that each participant will create and share with peers at a local Jewish school, congregation, or organization. The Federation also secured funding from the Samis Foundation to provide qualifying TILI participants with a $2,500 Israel Education travel grant to be used towards an Israel trip before college.
During the weekend program, students will dive into Jewish history, peoplehood, Zionism, and Israel’s founding, development, and preservation. The teens study original sources, such as texts, documents, and speeches. “Teens interrogate the sources, [and] we help them analyze and develop context to grasp Israel’s story,” Stein says.
Stein believes that exposing teens to original sources brings Israel’s modern history alive, builds understanding of history’s nuance, and prompts questions that enhance learning. It is critically important, he says, that students understand why Jews created a state. “Jewish values and ethics glue Jews together. Jews have a state because they have values and want to bring them together in a community collective,” he explains.
For young people to gain deeper knowledge about Israel and its core importance for Jewish identity is an act of remembrance, a force for Jewish continuity that will “reinvigorate understanding of where you came from, who you are, and perhaps assist defining where you are going,” says Stein.
Learn more and apply by April 2 by visiting jewishinseattle.org/tili.