By Matthew Ackerman ~
From Birthright and beyond, there is no shortage of ways for young Jews to get to Israel. But high school students looking for a trip that combines Israel advocacy with the more traditional fare of travel and fun have been at a loss – until now.
The David Project, a nonprofit that positively shapes campus opinion on Israel, and Young Judaea, a nearly one hundred year old Zionist youth movement, aim to close that gap with a month-long trip, called “I Speak Israel,” they are running jointly this summer. Julia Kaner, a rising senior at Westport’s Staples High School, will be among the first group of I Speak Israel students when the trip sets off on Sunday, July 8.
Julia Kaner and her mother Liz Kaner found I Speak Israel online. They thought it would make a great option for Julia, who wanted both more time in Israel and to come back better equipped to respond to Israel’s detractors, and share her experience with others. I Speak Israel seemed to have the right mix.
The Westport teen has been to Israel before, most recently for her brother Jack’s bar mitzvah, which the family celebrated at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, something she called a “very moving experience.” She is also already advocating for Israel, both locally, as a member of Staples’ Israel culture club, and nationally, as she was selected to participate in AIPAC’s Schusterman Advocacy Institute high school summit this past fall.
Kaner’s activity doesn’t stop with Israel. She is a member of Staples’ ski team (she picked up the sport in Vermont when she was two or three), debates as part of the Junior Statesmen (a student-run club), is active in her local United Synagogue Youth chapter, and is a member of Best Buddies, another club that pairs disabled students with older members. She will be on the Best Buddies board and be paired with a student next year. Her involvement is an outgrowth of the example set by her parents, who are members of both the Conservative Synagogue of Westport and the Chabad Lubavitch of Westport, and active with Hadassah, Save the Children, and AIPAC.
Zeev Ben-Shahar, a longtime educator for The David Project who will be I Speak Israel’s trip facilitator, is excited that Kaner and students like her are coming to Israel. He said, “Studies have shown that one of the best ways to create effective future advocates for Israel, especially on the college campus, is through trainings in Israel. We at The David Project are thrilled to partner with Young Judaea to offer high school students this unique opportunity that hopefully will give them the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to improve the conversation about Israel on college campuses and beyond.”
For her part, Kaner hopes that I Speak Israel will help her learn to love Israel “even more” and teach her the “key points” she needs to know to be an effective advocate. With passionate young people like herself on its side, the Jewish state is sure to find the advocates it will need for many years to come.