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Behind the Headlines a Unique Learning Process for Young American Jews

February 5, 1982
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Adam Fader, 16, a dark haired boy with a dark complexion, wearing a yarmulka, sat on the grass in front of the Museum of Jewish Diaspora at Tel Aviv University, enjoying the Israeli sun.

In a few days time he would be back at home in Miami with his family, after two months of high school studies in Israel. As far as he was concerned his family would not recognize him. Not that his hair grew long or that he gained weight at the Mosenson High School in Hod Hasharon. It is just that he had matured much more than the mere two months in Israel.

“I have become more Jewish,” he made his own analysis. “I have become more Jewish than my family expected me to. It could cause some problems at home, but I am going to change a few things there, whether mom approves or not.”

High school in Israel is a project which allows American youth to substitute their own school back home with a Jewish, Israeli oriented school — in Israel — for a period of two months. The studies take place in full cooperation with the educational authorities in the U.S. The youths receive full credit for their studies.

“You cannot describe how much more I got out of my studies here than I could have gotten in the States,” said Debbie Schlecker, 17, of Miami Beach.


High school in Israel started in the early 1970’s as an independent initiative by Rabbi Morris Kipper of Miami. At the time, local Jewish Federations in the U.S. were under constant public attack for spending a great deal of money on services for the adults, and too little on youth and education. Kipper, a communal rabbi in Miami, suggested to the local Jewish Federation that it operate a summer youth camp which would offer Jewish students supplementary Jewish studies.

The local federation welcomed the idea, as it was just the thing needed to fill in the gap in Jewish education. Kipper said he would secure the agreement of the local schools to grant the students academic credit. He asked the Federation to come up with the funds.

The only condition the Federation made for its agreement was that the project take place in Israel. Kipper accepted the condition warmly, and by 1972 the first group was on its way to Israel. It was an immediate success, and soon turned into a year-round project in which Jewish youth groups come to Israel for a two-month period for Jewish-oriented high school studies.

Four years after the start, the project formally separated from the Jewish Federation of Miami and created links with Jewish communities throughout the U.S. By now it is a nationwide project, acting in the U.S. in cooperation with the local Jewish communities and in Israel with the Jewish Agency’s diaspora culture and education department.

It was not easy to reach the target population. A persistent effort took place to recruit candidates in the general public high schools. Later, as word of the project was passed on, applicants approached the school at their own initiative. By now, said Rabbi Lee Diamond, the school’s principal, some 90 percent of the students come after they have heard recommendations from former graduates. “The main purpose of the school is to increase the identification of the young Jewish student with Judaism and Israel,” said Diamond.

Fader came to the school after he had heard of it from a couple of cousins of his, graduates of the school. “I knew it was going to be an intense course about Jewish history, but what I didn’t know was that it was going to be so emotional and fulfilling.”

After two months in schools, Fader wears a yarmulka as an exterior expression of identification. However, he does not come from a religious home. In fact, both Fader and Schlecker said they knew very little about Israel, coming from a considerably assimilated environment.

Diamond said some of the students came here with the background of Sunday school, few came with a record of Hebrew school, but the vast majority had no Jewish education whatsoever.


The study program is planned in such a way that the students will both benefit from Jewish studies, but will not miss out in their studies back at home. The first part of the day is devoted to Judaic studies–basically the history of the Jewish people.

In the afternoon hours the students study their own material, which they brought with them from home, in mathematics and the exact sciences. These studies take place on an individual basis, with private tutors. This way they are assured not to lag behind when they return home.

All the teachers of Jewish history are veteran immigrants from the U.S. with vast experience in education, holding at least a master’s degree in Jewish history. Studies take place at the Mosenson School of Youth Aliya at Hod Hasharon, half an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv. All studies take place in English, but the students are offered, as part of the study program, Hebrew lessons.

“One covers 4,000 years of Jewish history in two months. That’s quite an emotional experience,” Fader said. Studies include tours in the country which are directly linked to the historic periods studied. The students are also acquainted with current affairs.

“I think that environment is a very important element in our studies,” Fader observed. “You can just hop on a bus and see where everything happened. We would never have been able to acquire the same knowledge in the U.S., even with the same teachers and the same study program.”


President Yitzhak Navon makes a point of receiving every group during its stay here. Last month he came the first time to Hod Hasharon to see the project at first hand. He spent the whole day in the school, saying it was the first group of American students who showed full understanding of Jewish history.

He expressed the hope that there would be thousands, instead of the hundreds who study now. Presently there are 75 students in the school. This month, the new class will include 75 students and by the summer, Diamond expects 162 students.

The cost of the two months per student is $2,200, including the air fare from New York and back. However, each student is partially subsidized by the Jewish Agency and the local communities, so that in practice the student pays only about half the sum.

Musing about his experience, Fader said: “We are well aware that after we return home enthusiasm may fade away, and the odds are that we shall assimilate. But because we are aware of the danger, we shall try harder to prevent it.”

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