It is the middle of the summer vacation in the northern hemisphere but it has been as busy as ever at ORT House in London with World ORT’s Education Department running two programmes taking in more than 50 teenagers from 18 countries. While many teenagers in Europe have been lazing their way through the long break, participants in World ORT’s Future Leaders Program and English and Science Summer School have been energetically filling their minds and expanding their horizons.
For the 26 participants in this year’s Future Leaders Program this has meant two weeks of intensive study in Israel, the climax of nine months of online lectures, face to face seminars, written assessments, workshops and practical activities that has not only given them skills and practice in communal activism but also forged strong links between them.
“They travelled the length and breadth of Israel but this wasn’t just a tour, the focus was on what could be learned from activists and social entrepreneurs there, what insights could be gleaned that they could take with the back to their communities. It was an opportunity to be inspired,”? said Harris Lorie, World ORT’s Education Development Manager.
The program, supported by Israel’s Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora and the European Jewish Fund, is designed to address the needs of Europe’s smaller Jewish communities in particular, building their local leadership capacity as well as fostering an appreciation of their symbiotic relationship with Israel.
The summer school, conducted in cooperation with the Alexander Muss High School, is not quite the culmination of the programme “ﾓ there’s still a final online seminar and written assessment to go “ﾓ but it is certainly the high point. Participants gave presentations on the community projects they have been working on as required by the programme and saw first-hand how Israelis were tackling issues within their own communities.
“I’ve been to Israel before with my school but that was really just tourism. This trip was special in that we had a reason to go there: to learn something more about leadership. We saw some of the problems in Israel and how people were dealing with them so we have come back with a deeper appreciation of life in the country,”? said Hana Sikova, from the Czech Republic.
Hana said the Future Leaders Program had not only given her a lot of tools and inspiration for future ventures, it had also made her more open-minded and given her a strong network of international contacts and friends.
“It’s made me more interested and more believing in the Jewish community, that it’s important to maintain it. It’s given me more of a sense of not just taking from the community but also giving to the community.”?
Mr Lorie said the Program was unusual in that it was aimed at teenagers “ﾓ similar programmes were often aimed at young adults.
“We’re reaching young people before they go to university so that they are already aware of and open to the possibilities of contributing to their communities before they are exposed to the dazzling array of opportunities presented to them as undergraduates. They may be involved Jewishly at university in ways that probably would not have occurred to them had they not been on the Program and when they return to their hometowns they will have a sense of responsibility and feel confident to actively contribute to their communities,”? he said.
And at a time when many Jewish students feel uncomfortable on university campuses because of anti-Israel activities which sometimes spill over into anti-Jewish hostility, what they have learned on the Program is likely to make them more resilient.
Ilana Davis returned to her small community in Birmingham, England just in time to receive the good news that her performance in final high school exams had earned her a place to study law at her hometown’s highly regarded university. It was the crowning achievement to a busy year juggling schoolwork and her commitments to the Future Leaders Program.
“Being on the programme has been a life-changing experience,”? she said. “I can’t express how much I have learned just by being away from home for the first time abroad, meeting people from across Europe: I have friends around the world now.”?
And the summer school had capped off a year of strengthening her Jewish identity.
“Before the summer school I wasn’t certain about my relationship with Judaism and Israel. But seeing the country personally has helped me form a relationship with it.”?
Mr Lorie said the Future Leaders Program, now in its second year, was on the way to making a significant impact on Jewish life across Europe and the former Soviet Union.
“Our participants have been enthusiastic and shown themselves to be talented, capable and receptive to new ideas. Already, through their impressive community projects, they are making their presence felt. We can see that once they’re older, with more experience and greater resources, they have the potential to make a real difference. The Future Leaders Program is a long term investment but we’re already seeing the realisation of our participants’ potential.”?
Realising potential has also been central to the English and Science Summer School which brought 25 ORT students to London from Mexico, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, France, Italy, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Argentina.
Over the past two weeks, participants have spent their mornings in English classes while afternoons and evenings have been divided between cultural and science education activities. A key part of the programme is that participants use their improved English to tutor younger students in their schools in the language.
“We’ve run workshops with them to equip them with the tools and resources “ﾓ and confidence “ﾓ they’ll need to teach others, whether in a one-on-one or group scenario,”? said Mr Lorie.
Certainly, the Summer School has been effective in improving participants’ English.
“It’s been the first time that I’ve heard English in everyday life; until now the only English I’ve experienced has been in the classroom or in books,”? said Vidal Yahya, 15, who attends the ORT-affiliated school in Milan. “Before coming here my English was very formal but now I can use it in a more practical way “ﾓ I’ve even been dreaming in English!”?
Camila Roytman, 16, a student at CIM-ORT in Mexico City, said that improving her English was of tremendous importance.
“My whole education and career depends on getting a good level of English; I have to pass an exam in it to get into university,”? Camila said. “And at university I want to study International Relations so English is important for that, too.”?
But Kristof Janecek, 17, a student at the Lauder Gur Aryeh Jewish Community Day School in Prague, which features the ORT Lauder-Tye Science and Technology Centre, expects what he has learned at the Summer School will help him to make aliyah.
Kristof’s maternal grandmother converted to Christianity and he was raised as a Catholic but he has returned to his Jewish roots. He plans to move to Israel after high school and join the army.
“I’ve been trying to learn Hebrew but it’s very hard for me so I think I’ll be using English to communicate when I get to Israel,”? he said.