In May, 2012, for the 26th consecutive year, The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel has selected a group of 26 high school students to be Bronfman Fellows, with Ladue Horton Watkins High School junior Aitan Groener among them. The Bronfman Fellows participate in an intensive five-week program of study, travel, and extensive programming in Israel designed to develop future community leaders committed to Jewish unity. The program was founded by Edgar M. Bronfman.
Rabbi Mishael Zion, Co-Director, Director of Education of the Fellowship explains, “We have the privilege of working with young participants who are already leading in their communities. We, in turn, instill in them a love for learning Jewish texts, a commitment to pluralism, and a sense of social and Jewish responsibility.”
Following a competitive application process, this year’s Bronfman Fellows are from 12 states across the US and Canada. They represent diverse Jewish backgrounds, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, unaffiliated and non-denominational.
The Fellows study with an esteemed rabbinic faculty including Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, Executive Director of the Kavana Cooperative in Seattle, Washington. Rabbi Nussbaum has been recognized in Newsweek’s list of the fifty most influential rabbis in North America. Also on faculty are Dr. Vanessa Ochs, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, and Dr. Noam Pianko. Dr. Ochs is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies Program at the University of Virginia where she teaches courses in Judaism, anthropology of religion and spiritual writing. Dr. Ochs is also is the author of Inventing Jewish Ritual (JPS), winner of a 2007 National Jewish Book Award. Rabbi Yehuda Sarna serves as a University Chaplain for NYU and Rabbi of the Bronfman Center at NYU. He was awarded the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence from Hillel International in 2008, and was listed as one of “36-under-36 Changemakers” by the Jewish Week in 2009. Dr. Noam Pianko, is Associate Professor and Samuel N. Stroum Chair of Jewish Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Dr. Pianko is the author of Zionism and the Roads Not Taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn. Dr. Pianko and Rabbi Nussbaum are alumni of the Bronfman Fellowships. The faculty is led by Rabbi Mishael Zion, co-author of a celebrated Haggadah titled, A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices.
Fellows meet with political and cultural figures in Israel such as Israeli authors Etgar Keret and A.B. Yehoshua. They also spend a week with a group of Israeli peers who were chosen through a parallel selection process as part of the Israeli Youth Fellowship, Amitei Bronfman. Bronfman Youth Fellows are asked to devise and lead Jewish community or social action projects upon returning home after the summer.
“Bronfman Fellows gain a special opportunity to explore their Jewish identity in fresh ways. The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel offers a powerful experience that, as 25 years of success show, can last a lifetime,” said the program’s founder Edgar M. Bronfman.
There are now 649 Bronfman Fellowships alumni, the majority of whom still take part in alumni activities and projects. Bronfman Youth Fellowships alumni include 8 Rhodes Scholars, 4 former Supreme Court clerks, 11 Fulbright Scholars, 25 Wexner Fellows, and 21 Dorot Fellows. Young leaders of note among Fellowship alumni include: Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, author of the successful “Series of Unfortunate Events” children’s books; Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and editor of New American Haggadah (featuring commentary from Lemony Snicket, among others); and Angela Warnick Buchdahl, America’s first Asian-American Cantor and Rabbi, at the Central Synagogue in New York City. Others include: Igor Timofeyev, former supreme court clerk and former special advisor for refugee and asylum affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Dara Horn, author of In the Image, The World to Come and All Other Nights; and Anya Kamenetz, the youngest person ever nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her Village Voice series “Generation Debt: The New Economics of Being Young.”
“The five weeks in Israel are an entry point to a lifelong community of Jewish leaders,” said Rebecca Voorwinde, Co-Director, Director of Strategy & Community Engagement. “Our hope is that our community can serve as a talent bank for the Jewish people.”