People watch Israeli Air Force planes fly over the Mediterranean Sea from a Tel Aviv beach, during an aerial show as part of celebrations for Israel's Independence Day, marking the 66th anniversary of the creation of the state.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – The "secret sauce" to connecting young American Jews to Israeli culture is connecting them to second generation Israeli-Americans, co-founder and CEO of the Israeli American Council, Shoham Nicolet, told The Jerusalem Post last week.
The IAC’s Eitanim educational program embodies this idea, he explained.
Eitanim, which was started four months ago across the United States, is a project-based curriculum and aims to develop students’ leadership and entrepreneurship skills before they to college while connecting them to Israel.
Some 10 to 20 students gather each week in the program’s seven participating cities to work on innovative solutions to real-world challenges related to Israel. The activity is hosted either at Jewish community centers or corporate headquarters, including Google in Mountain View, California.
Half of the high schoolers in each group are American Jews and the other half are American- Israelis, meaning young people born in the United States to Israeli immigrants.
“We want to make sure that there is engagement between the communities,” Nicolet, who also has expertise in education technology and problem- based learning, said. “We feel that the Israeli-American community has so much to get from the Jewish American community and the Jewish American community can get from [American-Israelis] the Israeliness. The Israeliness meaning the Hebrew [language], the innovation, speaking Israeli, which is understanding Israeli culture, and so many other things.”
Nicolet mentioned the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study on American Jewry, which showed that young American Jews’ connection to Israel and Jewish life in general is weakening.
“We feel that young Israeli- Americans, especially the second generation, can be the connectors,” he said. “I believe that a connection to Israel makes your Jewish identity stronger and a stronger Jewish identity makes a connection to Israel stronger. That’s what it should look like.”
During their work with Eitanim, the students are also accompanied by Israeli-American mentors who have experience is the tech industry and by college students from IAC’s Mishelanu program who, Nicolet explained, speak the same “millennial language” as they do.
Nicolet added that his “number one concern” is that the high schoolers of today are the future of the Israel, and the Jewish people in general.
“If the next generation of Jewish Americans won’t care about Jewish life, Jewish community or Israel, we’re in big trouble,” he said. His hope is that this ‘secret sauce’ of the program strengthens the relationship between young American Jews and their heritage.
The Eitanim program, Nicolet said, also draws its strength from the fact that it is named after Maj. Eitan Balachsan, who served with Nicolet in the paratroops in the 1990s. Balachsan was killed while conducting a mission against Hezbollah in 1999. Through its name, the Eitanim program honors his leadership, commitment to education and to Israel.
The program begun as a pilot with 100 students earlier this year in Seattle, Boston, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington, DC, and New Jersey.
It will be officially launched this September with three additional locations, said Nicolet.