'We're so glad you came to talk to our students about their Jewish identity." These words are echoed by teachers in a myriad of high schools - right here in Israel. In an effort to bridge the growing divide between secular and spiritual life among Jews in this country, the Jerusalem-based Artists and Musicians for Israel (AMI) brings talented local professionals into the schools to open teenage students' hearts and minds to the joy of experiencing their own heritage. "Many people in Israel don't identify as Jews but as Israelis. But to be an Israeli and not know that you're Jewish, there is something missing," says Yehudah Katz, who established the nonprofit organization in 2005. By means of specially designed workshops in music and art, AMI facilitators teach Judaism through the inspiration that music and art bring out. In that way, each student has an opportunity to be a creator. To date, AMI provides an ongoing series of workshops in six Israeli high schools and five pre-army mechinot. People don't usually experience Judaism through music," says Katz. "It's a very different experience," says the native New Yorker. "Music follows you and stays with you; therefore, the content of what you are teaching is easier to remember," explains Katz, who has been a force on the Israeli music scene for the past 16 years. "The students get involved and express themselves in song and dance," comments one of the teachers who has seen the results of the workshops firsthand. "Everything stops, and we just sing," she says. "I love teaching - and singing and playing music," says Josh Lauffer from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who is one of the musicians/instructors in the organization. "We use music and art as a tool in creative workshops to strengthen Jewish identity and to connect Jewish people not only to Israel but to each other," says the guitarist, singer and songwriter. Particularly around the Jewish holidays, the artists and musicians go to the schools to talk to the students about the festivals and to inspire them to experience the richness and the beauty of their significance. "We also teach the teachers how to do it," says Lauffer. "We give them tools they can use to continue the process." Farther afield, AMI also facilitates its program of concerts and workshops in the Diaspora. During a week-long series of sessions in a given community, the artists and musicians weave their magic for all ages and denominations of Jews within that community. Through creative experiences and an open exchange of ideas, they strive to generate an atmosphere that fosters authentic self-expression and mutual understanding. Overall, the goal of AMI is to get the idea - and the feeling - across that Jews, be they in Israel or Indiana, have more in common than they realize and to focus on those commonalities rather than the differences.

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