Learning From the Past to Change the Future

By Laurel Fairworth

16107464_1852348398343930_3795405131184417547_oIn light of recent developments it is more important than ever to remind people about what can happen when anti-Semitism is left unchecked. Recently, cemetery stones have been overturned, bomb threats made against synagogues and we have seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Jews. To combat that a new pilot program called Eitanim (which means the strong or steadfast ones), is encouraging teenagers to use technology in a novel way to share what happened in the past to deepen connection to Israel in the future.

The program is named after a heroic Israeli soldier who died in the conflict with Hezbollah. The Israeli American Council is sponsoring the leadership and entrepreneurship project for high school students. The program primarily allows youngsters to connect, experience and explore modern day Israel while preparing for college and developing professional skills. The current project is to preserve via new interactive technology the stories and memories of Holocaust victims, survivors, veterans and fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) for future generations. “Education is the only way to combat bias and to fight against hate,” said Yoni Ari, Regional Director of the Israeli American Council.

Seasoned role models, relate to the teenagers using the example of Israeli innovation to teach critical thinking and leadership. Some like mentor Rinat Arieli motivate the kids by telling them of their own successes and failures. Arieli explained, “This pilot program has been wonderful. It has been especially moving for me as I share my insight as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. On a practical level, mentors can act as references for college admittance or sounding boards as these teens move into the next phase of their lives.”

Teenagers use all they have learned to create solutions that engage Israelis and American Jews. The kids will present their designs on April 4, and the winner will be announced in June at the JCC Kaiserman Center. Tal Keshet is a ninth grader at Great Valley High School. She is enthusiastic about the challenge and the friends she has made during this process. “I really love it. I have met so many new people and have learned from all of them. I’m happy I decided to be a part of this. It’s the best part of my week.”

Parents like Cindy Smukler Ben Hamo approve. She sees the difference it has made for her daughter, Liat. “This program is life changing for her. When my daughter is not in Israel this is her connection and the closest she will get. She loves it and comes back excited and energized,” says Ben Hamo.

Harriett and Mark Levin, parents of Michael Levin, the first Paratrooper and only American who volunteered for the IDF and died in 2006 during the second Lebanon war, will speak to students on March 23, 2017, at the Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy. The event is from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The kids have previously heard from and been motivated by other accomplished individuals like the author of “Living with Ghosts.” That gathering was timely, since it was held directly after the Stand Against Hate rally. The author talked about preserving our heritage, why it is important to remember the past, how we honor the people who preceded us and the necessity of maintaining our Jewish identity. The aim is to light a spark in the teens’ imaginations. Iris Hami, the chairperson of IAC said, “The IAC in Philadelphia bolsters the community in order to strengthen Jewish identity and initiative for the next generation.”

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