JNF WIRE: Alexander Muss High School Builds Bridges Between American and Israeli Students
Novermber 11, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
Alexander Muss High School Builds Bridges
Between American and Israeli Students
By: Laura Ben-David
When two schools that are 6,000 miles apart find a creative way to bridge the physical and cultural gaps that exist, everyone benefits. Such was the discovery after a random meeting at a Tel Aviv café six years ago, prompting the start of a most fascinating and unique program connecting two high schools: one in Pennsylvania and the other in Israel.
This connection was apparent one recent Friday afternoon on a high school basketball court in Israel. Eleventh graders speaking in English peppered with Hebrew joked, took selfies, and interacted with each other like old friends. However the reality was that it was two distinct groups that had only been introduced to one another just mere weeks prior.
The link between Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, a pluralistic Jewish day school located in Bryn Mawr, a Philadelphia suburb, and Ahad Ha'am High School in Petach Tikva, was sparked when an administrator at Barrack was overheard by someone at Ahad Ha’am while looking for ideas to ‘bring Israel’ to the school in commemoration of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day, respectively.
The result: Each year during the commemoration and celebration period, a delegation of 10th grade students from Ahad Ha’am travels to Barrack, where they are hosted by Barrack families and actively participate in all the ceremonies and festivities with their American counterparts.
And that is just the beginning.
To create a reciprocal relationship, each fall, the majority of Barrack’s 11th grade class comes to Israel and attends the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) for three months. In addition to spending time with their Israeli friends and learning more about Israeli culture, Barrack students bring their course work and study AMHSI-JNF’s Core Curriculum, which covers 4,000 years of Jewish and Israeli history. They also participate in AMHSI-JNF’s trademark experiential learning program, using the land as the classroom, fusing the formal and the informal approach to Israel Studies.
Speaking with Barrack students at a special program held at the Ahad Ha’am High School, it is clear that the relationships formed between the American and Israeli students and the experiences have been life-changing.
Julia Opher, 16, said how great it was to visit the Israelis after connecting with them on social media and having them visit at Barrack. Hailing from history-rich Philadelphia, Opher found the millennia-deep historical roots of Israel to be moving. “It’s really cool living where all our ancestors lived,” she said.
Gabriella Maze, 16, was thrilled to visit her new Israeli friends, see their school, the environment they live in, and the similarities and difference between their two schools. “We stayed in touch and now we got to go to their houses. It’s really interesting to see Israelis our age and view how they interact with each other in their day-to-day lives just like we do, such as what they wear, what they do, and where they shop. In the end, we’re all the same.”
In fact, this “sameness” was a recurring theme when speaking to the students. One after another the American students were surprised and delighted to find that once they got past the thin layer of cultural differences, they discovered that the Israelis were very much like themselves.
Gabriel Bryant, 16, appreciated some of the activities they participated in with the Israelis students. “We got to study with them in classes and interact with them in school,” he said. “Someone hosted a house party so we got to see them out of school as well, just kind of hang around with them and doing normal stuff. It’s a different culture and everything, but at the same time they’re pretty similar to us, “Bryant added.
The Barrack students have reconnected with friends from Ahad Ha’am and have also made new friends at AMHSI-JNF. Their housing is in the Mosenson Youth Village, where they connect with American and Australian students on other AMHSI-JNF academic programs, including their study abroad semester and eight-week sessions, as well as with Israeli students attending the Mosenson Youth Village's boarding school.
Noah Friedman-Nathan, 17, explained that their education while studying at AMHSI-JNF has exposed the students to forging a personal connection to Israel in new ways. He particularly enjoyed being immersed in Israeli society and getting to hear from different Israeli speakers and that this experience is truly unique and one that is deeply appreciated. “I learned a lot about Israeli culture, what Israelis like, how they dress, what music they’re into, what they think about America. At our school in Philadelphia, we learn a lot about Israel politically, and we may hear from soldiers from time to time, but we never talk one-on-one with people our age, people who are really just like us.”
It may have all started with an accidental meeting in a Tel Aviv café, but this connection, now celebrating its fifth year, is anything but random. Between experiences had, knowledge acquired, and relationships formed, Israeli and American students who live 6,000 miles apart have found a wonderful and meaningful bridge that brings them together.
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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.
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