Outstanding teenage leaders take on a new challenge

At 16, Amanda Kruger is already a solidly established "leader."

Last year the Alameda High School junior implemented a youth conference for teens and community leaders. Currently she is busy creating a teen center on her school's campus. In addition, Kruger is a member of Alameda High's Associated Student Body; she plays soccer, runs cross-country and swims.

Kruger also attends the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education's Havurah high school program and is involved in its Jewish civics program.

It would appear that Kruger has neither the time nor the need for any further extra-curricular leadership training. Yet she has chosen to add another activity to her resume: the Diller Teen Fellowship.

Quite simply, Kruger says, "It allows me to do something none of these other programs does — make changes in Israel that I care about."

Kruger, a member of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, is one of 20 high school juniors and seniors chosen for the new program sponsored by the Helen and Sanford Diller Family Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, and implemented by BJE and the Israel Center.

According to co-directors Mel Berwin, the teen resource and program consultant for BJE, and Heidi Winig, director of the Israel Experience, the new program offers "second-tier leadership training."

"This is an opportunity for already identified leaders to get extra experience and move forward with their leadership skills," Winig said. "It's an opportunity for them to focus intensely on community service."

The Diller Program is the newest collaborative effort by BJE and the Israel Center toward engaging teens in Jewish learning after confirmation. Last year the Teen Havurah was inaugurated, and offered more than 165 young Bay Area Jews opportunities to study Jewish texts, cook Jewish food and engage in discussions about Jews in the media. The Havurah is a cooperative effort between the BJE and area religious schools.

The Diller Program began in January with a weekend retreat in the Marin Headlands.

The teens will meet for a total of eight workshops over a six-month period. They will gather in various locations across the region to learn about models for organizing community service projects. Leaders and activists in the Jewish community will serve as their instructors.

Students will delve into issues close to their hearts, such as "How do people choose to get involved in an issue?" and "What makes a Jewish leader?"

In addition, the teens will break into groups of five to work on a community project of their choice.

Finally, the Diller fellows will implement similar programs in Israel during a three-week, completely subsidized trip in July. The teens will be working with Israeli youths also engaged in leadership training.

Berwin envisions a wide range of projects focusing on areas such as the environment, politics and the arts.

Dan Frost, a senior at University High School in San Francisco and a member of Congregation Beth Sholom, hopes to "create something that will last a while.

"I'm an artist and very visually oriented. Ideally, I'd love to do work with teens in Israel on a project that would not encounter language barriers — like art," said Frost, who is currently developing a student film festival at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

"When I went to Israel before, I realized that the teens there had similar views as teens in America. I'd like to compare and contrast that frame of mind through art," he said.

Meanwhile, Kruger is excited about working for political and social change.

An optimist, Kruger hopes to join forces with Israeli teens to work for peace. She added, "I know all of this has been tried before, which is a bit discouraging."

Nonetheless, she would like to work on Israeli-Arab communications in Israel and American-Israeli relations at home.

"When I went to Israel last summer I realized that I was just a grain of sand in life. I know it sounds cheesy but I really got that," Kruger said. "I realized what I wanted to do with my life — to try and change my world in any way I can.

"I looked around and realized Israel was such a wonderful place but there were so many issues to be worked on. I felt strongly that I wanted to work on creating peace there but I didn't know how.

"This program gives me that structure and that chance."