By Max Buchdahl
When Ryan Berger was about to enter his sophomore year of high school, the current University of Pennsylvania freshman watched coverage of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas with nervous eyes. He was surrounded by people he cared about who had differing opinions on the war — and he wanted answers.
So Berger asked his mother, who is involved with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in New York, what he could do to learn more about the issues. He wanted to know how a high-schooler, with little expertise but a large desire to get involved, could advocate effectively on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people.
In the months that followed, Berger, together with AJC, formulated a program that began in New York, but has now expanded to several AJC regions across the country. The program, called Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT), will be coming to Philadelphia in the fall. It is an AJC advocacy and education initiative for teenagers to continue developing their Jewish identities, while gaining the confidence to speak up about issues facing world Jewry today.
Participants in the program will be exposed to AJC’s unique approach to education and advocacy, centered in dialogue and mutual understanding. This approach will be valuable for students when they enter the arena of college campuses and ready themselves for the adult world. By engaging in a dialogue about the meaning of Israel to American Jewish identity, rather than being given a laundry list of facts and talking points, LFT participants will be especially prepared to engage in dialogue with their peers in the future.
In a time of extreme divisiveness, when students on college campuses are pushed into taking a side, LFT trains students to be able to stand in the middle, to understand and respect multiple viewpoints, and to act as intermediaries to encourage greater understanding among their peers. It is crucial for Jewish students today to have the confidence to talk about complex issues. Students may not have all the answers, but they do need to have an appreciation for nuance and complexity.
The Leaders for Tomorrow application process will be opening up in the coming weeks. Interested readers may email [email protected] for more information.