Hello From High School in Israel!
For Texas local Lauren Atkens, attending Jewish National Fund-USA's High School in Israel was a dream come true, reports Matt Robinson
With interests in cybersecurity and filmmaking, and a connection to Judaism, high school senior Lauren Atkens from Mansfield, TX, had always seen herself visiting Israel.
“I love being involved in the Jewish community,” said Atkens, who was born in Bethesda, MD, and is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington, TX. “Ever since I was little, it has always been my dream to go to Israel.”
When she heard about the opportunity to attend Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (High School in Israel) and spend a semester abroad, she jumped at the chance to participate.
“In December 2019,” she recalled, “I came home from school one day and my dad told me that there was a grant available to send one person to High School in Israel, and they chose me!” Atkens couldn’t wait to spend a semester in Israel, learning 4,000 years of Israeli and Jewish history, and visiting places where that history took place, as well as keeping up with her coursework from her high school back home.
Lauren on camel back explores the Negev Desert with High School in Israel
As her flight was delayed due to the pandemic, Atkens was the last participant in the High School in Israel program to arrive on campus. Expecting to face challenges with connecting with other people due to her late arrival, she said that, “I ...was able to make friends with almost everyone easily.” In fact, despite having to quarantine in the beginning of the semester, Atkens said that she has made many profound connections with her students, madrichim (counselors), and teachers.
“Almost everyone here has become an ‘extended family member’ to me, including the madrichim,” she said. “I even found an amazing ice cream shop where I’ve already made great friends with the workers!”
During her time at High School in Israel, Atkens said she has been developing skills that will help prepare her for both college and beyond. During her time in quarantine, she has experienced living with others, and managing her time between classes and social life. As the program’s schedule has been changing regularly, she has also had to work on being flexible and going with the flow.
Lauren pictured with classmates from High School in Israel. Students experience ancient and modern Jewish history while achieving academic excellence.
Fortunately, health and safety have not been a concern for Atkens thanks to High School in Israel’s coordination with Israel’s Ministry of Health. The school’s close consultation with the Ministry has that all programming and operations have been conducted in accordance with relevant safety guidelines and protocols.
“I feel safer than ever here,” she said emphatically. “The school has done a great job of keeping us safe during COVID and in general.”
Even on off-campus tiyulim (field trips) around Israel, Atkens affirmed that, “the school does a great job at keeping us calm and safe.”
As for the classes, Atkens said they have been impressive and inspiring.
“As someone who loves Judaism and Israel,” she said, “I’ve learned a lot about the stories in the Tanakh and have traveled to incredible places, and it’s amazing to walk around knowing that everywhere you step has a special and historical meaning to it…. It has connected me with Israel deeply."
Though she still has a few weeks left in her program, Atkens heartily endorses High School in Israel and advises anyone who is qualified to participate.
“I absolutely recommend High School in Israel to anyone,” she said. “Even during COVID, you can see that everyone behind the scenes works hard to make sure we’re enjoying ourselves…. If you’re scared to be leaving everything behind to come here, come anyway!”
Students have the opportunity to apply for The Lone Star State High Scholl in Israel Grant, which offers financial grants to students from across the state of Texas to study at Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
For more information about Jewish National Fund-USA’s High School in Israel and relevant grants, contact Israel Programs Admissions Director, Galit Birk, PhD. at 214.433.6600 x944 or [email protected].