To counteract growing anti-Israeli rhetoric on a number of college campuses, The Macks Center for Jewish Education has introduced the Israel High Leadership program to arm public and private high school students with the facts.
Currently, students at Pikesville, McDonogh, Franklin and Owings Mills High Schools as well as students participating in Achshav (Beth El/Chizuk Amuno high school program), Netivon (Chizuk Amuno) and Beit RJ (Har Sinai, Baltimore Hebrew, Temple Oheb Shalom and Temple Emanuel) are gaining the critical tools they will need to face the growing upsurge in anti-Israel activities.
It’s one of several programs The Associated agencies are implementing in area schools to educate teens about critical topics, which also include healthy relationships, addiction and HIV/AIDS.
Held after-school, Israel High’s curriculum focuses on a cross section of topics to help students respond to ongoing attempts to de-legitimize Israel. Funded by The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated, the sessions introduce many students to what’s happening on college campuses, while investigating such topics such as media bias, the origins of the Palestinian refugee crises and moral equivalence.
“This generation knows less about Israel, often taking the country for granted,” says Reut Friedman, Israel Engagement Associate at CJE. “Israel High provides them with the tools to handle what they might face on college campus.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there has been more than a 40 percent increase in anti-Israel events from 2014 to 2015.
In a particularly moving session, teens viewed the documentary, Crossing the Line 2, about anti-Israel activity and anti-Semitism on college campuses. “One of the teens told me her father often told her about what was happening, but she dismissed him. After seeing the film, she realized she doesn’t have the knowledge to respond,” says Friedman.
To make the learning more relevant to the students, the two Shinsinim, 18-year old Israeli emissaries who are spending the year in Baltimore, educate their peers about life in Israel. They also encourage students to meet for coffee to learn more about life in Israel.
“I was surprised how little the majority of the students knew about Israel,” says Matan Adar, one of the Shinshinin. “And, they knew next to nothing about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.”
CJE Israel staff members created the lesson plans using the “Step Up for Israel” high school curriculum, with information and resources provided to staff through professional development at the Emory Israel Center and the iCenter conference and with materials created by Jerusalem U. Curriculum is adapted to the school setting and the number of meetings anticipated.
In addition five students will be invited to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC this March.
Although Israel High may be the newest program, Associated agencies engage in a number of additional school programs that target teens. These include Baltimore Jewish Council’s Holocaust education programming, CHANA’s in-school programs on healthy relationships and Jewish Community Services (JCS) prevention education services.
In fact, last year, Jewish Community Services held more than 260 programs in public, private and Jewish day schools, reaching more than 5,500 students. JCS health educators address topics such as HIV/AIDS prevention, alcohol and other drugs of abuse, bullying, body image, media literacy and other cutting edge issues for middle and high schools. Many of these programs include speakers in addiction recovery and those living with HIV/AIDS.
Last year, JCS also added an anti-bullying and inclusion story telling programs for pre-school and early elementary grade school students which are currently implemented at the JCC preschools and in a number of Jewish day schools.
“We have been providing these sessions for over 25 years. The teachers and principals at these schools ask for us, because our health educators and speakers bring experience and expertise to the classroom,” says Howard Reznick, JCS Senior Manager of Prevention and Education.