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The Israel Experience: Alexander Muss High School in Israel

Lauren Mamon of Brookline, MA was desperately searching for summer plans for her high school senior, Jonathan. “What are you going to do this summer?” was a constant question in their house throughout last winter and spring .  

“We started talking about different sports camps and travel options, but none of them seemed to spark Jonathan’s interest,” Mamon recalls. “He spent the best summers of his life at camp, but was not inspired to work there. Then we started talking about going back to Israel.  He had spent the previous summer on a teen tour, and fell in love.” 

The Mamons heard about the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) program from the school’s Northeast Director, Dana Gerbie Klein. With Dana’s help, Jonathan spoke to AMHSI alumni and the idea grew on him. He decided to attend AMHSI’s summer session, a trip he describes as a wonderfully defining experience in his life. 

There have long been college study abroad choices and a recent proliferation of gap-year programs in Israel, not to mention summer youth group trips. But AMHSI, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is the only non-denominational, pluralistic, English-language academic program in Israel for high school teens. 

AMHSI offers six- and eight-week sessions throughout the year at its Hod Hasharon campus near Tel Aviv, as well as a new full semester session in the Negev. The program has over 20,000 graduates, including popular singer Matisyahu and The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger, as well as numerous rabbis and community leaders. 

The Mamons knew Jonathan was having a wonderful time by the frequently updated pictures on the AMHSI website.  While the program is academic, there were just as many pictures of the teens seriously wandering through a religious site as there were of them drenched in mud, or dressed up for a toga party.  Jonathan loved both the staff and the friends he made, and felt that AMHSI offered a perfect level of independence, allowing him to explore the area around the Hod HaSharon campus.  The school and the surrounding town quickly came to feel like home. Even now, Jonathan still uses what he learned from Muss, talking and writing passionately in his World Religion class as a freshman at Lehigh University, sharing materials with his teachers, and guiding others to understand Israel’s complexities.  

Over 200 local students have taken advantage of the program in recent years.

“I wanted to connect to my Judaism and had never been to Israel before,” says Shoshana Stern-Robbins, a sophomore at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, of her decision to attend AMHSI. “It was the best experience of my life. I spent four months traveling in Israel while incorporating school and learning about Israel’s history. You get to experience Israel as a local, not a tourist. I feel more connected now. The holidays felt more spiritual than at home, knowing that everyone in the country is celebrating at the same time.”

With the support of Jewish National Fund (JNF), an AMHSI partner, the newest AMHSI campus was recently opened at the Eshel Hanassi Youth Village in the Negev, where the full semester program is held. More than double the length of a traditional eight-week AMHSI session, the new four-month program develops a deeper exposure to, and connection with, Israel, building upon the core AMHSI curriculum while including additional features such as Hebrew classes, mock army training, and a four-day hike across the country from “sea to sea,” from the Galilee to the Mediterranean. The semester also includes a week in Poland to study about the Holocaust, continuing with the AMHSI educational methodology of learning on-site where history took place.

“My semester in Israel helped me mature in a short amount of time,” said Isaac Tarlin, a sophomore at Sharon High School. “I will remember the values I learned by living on my own for the rest of my life.”

Space is still available for the AMHSI eight-week mini-semester program leaving April 9, 2013 and returning June 4, 2013. AMHSI also offers two summer sessions. Upcoming dates are June 18, 2013 – July 30, 2013 and June 26, 2013 – August 7, 2013. The fall semester program, leaving August 25, 2013 and returning December 27, 2013, still has spots available as well.

For more information about AMHSI, please contact Dana Gerbie Klein, at 617.566.8166 or dklein@amhsi.org.

For more information about JNF, please contact Sara Hefez, Director, New England at shefez@jnf.org or 617.423.0999 ext. 811.

           

L-R Jessie MacInnes of Andover and Sophie Klein of Boston.                        

L-R Basia Schwartz of Framingham, Sabrina Fried of Brookline, Samantha Berman of Lexington and Sophie Klein of Boston.

 

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