For teens, its all about Israel

“Israel is back on the agenda,” said Nechama Tamler, teen program director at the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education. “We are putting Israel on display. And the community needs to get back in the saddle on Israel.”

The resurgence of interest in Israel, Tamler noted, will be reflected among educational offerings Bay Area teens can expect in the fall.

In the East Bay, Rabbi Glenn Karonsky, director of the Center for Jewish Living and Learning, said educators rewrite their Israel curriculum every year.

Indeed, the numbers do point to a resurgence: Sixty-three teens went to Israel this summer as part of either the Diller Teen Fellows Program or Let’s Go, both supported by the BJE. Tamler expects more than 100 participants next summer.

“We want to connect kids in Israel with kids here, and compare and contrast Jewish identity,” said Claire Mikowski, the new principal of the BJE-sponsored San Francisco and Peninsula Havurot, the evening program for high-schoolers, discussing of one the San Francisco classes offered this fall. “We want the kids to explore what they can learn from each other.”

Another class offering in the San Francisco Havurah, which has 100 students, is along the lines of “How to Handle Personal Dilemmas Through a Jewish Lens,” or “Personalizing Jewish Law.”

Mikowski has extensive experience as an educator, but was a theater actress and did voiceovers for radio and TV in the Bay Area, which explains why the third new class is “Telling Your Personal Jewish Story Through Jewish Theater.”

“One of the teachers at the San Francisco site is a member of Traveling Jewish Theatre,” said Mikowski. “So we are bringing a performance of TJT’s ‘The Wonders’ to both campuses.”

Israel also figures prominently in the new course catalogue at the Peninsula Havurah, which has 200 students. “One of the classes is ‘How to Promote Dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, between Jews and Arabs,'” she said.

In addition to opening dialogue, students also need to know how to handle anti-Semitism. “Jewish Life on Campus” offers 11th- and 12th-graders on the Peninsula some ideas. “We need to send kids to college with knowledge,” said Mikowski. “The class will cover how to confront anti-Semitic and anti-Israel situations and give the students facts to respond with.”

And, acknowledging that today’s youth will be tomorrow’s adults, another Peninsula class will be “How to Prepare Kids to be Leaders in the Jewish Community.” Students will also have the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., through Panim el Panim, a program designed to help young people lobby on social justice issues of interest to the Jewish and larger communities.

The high school Havurot plans to extend the unit on social justice and effecting social change to 10 sites in the Bay area.

“Teens and their families will have the opportunity to engage in service learning and social action with a reflection component built into it,” said Tamler. Called Heart Action, the program continues a pilot project begun by the BJE’s Vicky Kelman, the director of the Jewish Family Education Project.

The other significant change — one teens admittedly adore — is that San Francisco Havurah high-schoolers will now have more choices. “We’ve redesigned the curriculum,” said Tamler, “to include more electives.”

But all the action isn’t taking place just in the region served by BJE. East Bay teens will also see major changes to the programs in their supplemental Jewish high school.

“During the winter, 10th- through 12th-graders will be able to participate on Tikkun Ha-Ir, ‘repairing the city,'” said Karonsky, whose programs, under the aegis of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, serve 900 students at four campuses as well as a satellite location in Lafayette. “It’s a social action program that will be during their vacation days. The students will live together under CJLL’s auspices and work in Oakland.”

“They will clean up, fix, repair,” he continued, “all in the context of tikkun olam, repairing the world. They will eat kosher food and celebrate Shabbat, and work during the weekdays.”

Eighth-graders will participate in the “Rites of Passage” program, an outback-wilderness experience for small groups in the backcountry.

“It’s a chance for the students to make peace with Judaism and nature, and to build connections and anticipation for ninth-grade and beyond,” said Karonsky. “Because even though 90 percent of East Bay bar and bar mitzvah students resume their Jewish education, the trick is keeping them within the system. These eighth-graders provide the fuel for the system as new students.”

CJLL’s program for high-schoolers also revolves around a series of thematic weekend retreats for each grade level during the year. A new teen prayerbook will now be part of the Shabbat experience.

“The teen prayerbook will be available at all our schools, camps and retreats,” said Karonsky. And, because it will be pulled out amidst the flurry of outdoorsy activities, “it will be waterproof.”

Information on BJE programs: Claire Mikowski, (415) 751-6933, ext. 128. On CJLL programs: Adina West, (510) 839-2900, ext. 235; [email protected]

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.