Applications down for prestigious Israeli fellowship

Meeting with the teens of the Kings Bay Y and its Executive Director Leonard Petlakh to learn about Russian-Jewish immigrant identity in America
Meeting with the teens of the Kings Bay Y and its Executive Director Leonard Petlakh to learn about Russian-Jewish immigrant identity in America. BRONFMAN YOUTH FELLOWSHIPS FACEBOOK PHOTO

The Bronfman Youth Fellowships are still looking for a few good teens.

The prestigious Israel study program for students entering Grade 12 usually attracts 300 applicants each year for 26 spots, but worries about security have led only 150 students to apply so far, organizers say. The deadline to submit an application is Jan. 6.

Highly publicized attacks in Israel and the U.S. State department’s caution on worldwide travel issued last month are likely responsible for the shortfall, said New York-based Becky Voorwinde, co-director of the program.

“For people who are watching the news, there’s added fear,” she said.

The highly selective program offers a five-week trip to Israel, where students travel and meet with leading Israeli thinkers, artists and educators. Students also participate in two educational seminars in New York and undertake a social action project.

The program is also unique, in that nearly all costs are paid, with families responsible for a $600 fee and airfare to New York for the two educational seminars. Financial aid is available to cover those expenses for families if necessary, Voorwinde said.

The program attracts a diverse group of high school students. About two or three Canadians are among the 26 fellows selected annually, she said.

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Although the program is now in its 30th year, the challenge is still getting the word out, especially to students who are less connected to the Jewish community, she said.

Applications from students in Jewish high schools, across denominations, have remained stable, she added.“We’re not panicked that we won’t have a strong cohort, but we really want to reach the widest pool of candidates possible.” After a recent conference call with 40 families, more applications were completed, she said.

The program has not changed its security protocols, but in the last year, there has been a greater attempt to inform parents about how decisions are made about where to tour in Israel, she said.

Enrolment is also down slightly at the Conservative movement’s high school semester in Jerusalem program, which starts next month, said Judy Greene, registrar for Ramah’s Israel programs.

“We have 36 students. We usually have 50, but we’re still receiving applications,” she said, adding that most parents are very supportive of their children going to Israel, and sometimes it’s the students who feel they should go to Israel another time.

Applications for the movement’s summer program, Ramah Seminar, are up, however, compared to last year, she said.

Bronfman Fellowships runs a similar program for Israeli high school students in New York, and their parents “were just as anxious at having their children come to America as Canadian and American families were about their children coming to Israel,” Voorwinde said.

Students entering Grade 12 in 2016 can apply to the Bronfman Fellowship here.