An awe-inspiring experience at the helm of the Alexander Muss High School

With Jewish youth disregarding their heritage, casting it off as a “burden,” and taking Israel for granted, the battle for Jewish souls is as relevant today as it has ever been.

December 16, 2013 21:50
3 minute read.
Australians and their American counterparts meet to discuss Jewish peoplehood.

Australians and Americans discuss Jewish peoplehood 521. (photo credit: Laura Kelly)

When I had the opportunity to name the High School in Israel program after my father, Alexander Muss, in 1981, I realized just how personal this journey had become. I didn’t yet have any children or grandchildren who had attended. I did it because I believed the future of the Jewish world needed the school. Now, at the age of 85, I have finally decided to step down as chairman of Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). I have spent the better part of my life promoting the future of the Jewish people by bringing teens to Israel for educational programs, letting them experience the pulsating center of Judaism with their own eyes, hands and hearts.

It has been an awe-inspiring 42-year experience for the school, during which time we have brought over 22,000 students to Israel. I will now be spending more time with my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, knowing that I have done my best to ensure their Jewish future.

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Yet, I feel uneasy. My mind is not at peace when I think of the next generation. With Jewish youth disregarding their heritage, casting it off as a “burden,” and taking Israel for granted, the battle for Jewish souls is as relevant today as it has ever been.

After years of experience and countless interactions with alumni, parents of participants, and school administrators, I know that our programs have made a difference in the adult lives of our participants. We have influenced major life decisions, including who they have chosen to marry and what colleges they have chosen to attend. The passion for Israel and Judaism they find in their teen years reverberates for a lifetime.

The importance of teen programming is a truth that should be essential to the Jewish psyche. We are told: “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” But it is a truth that seems to be falling by the wayside.

AMHSI and the other proud members of Lapid, the coalition for high school-aged programs in Israel, are battling to move Israel programming for teens forward.

While the masses are beginning to accept that fact that teen education is vitally important to the Jewish future, enrollment is staggering due to financial constraints.

Make no mistake – AMHSI has a very bright future. Our new partnership with the Jewish National Fund is only the first of many exciting new steps in the right direction. But it feels as though AMHSI and the other Lapid partner organizations have always been fighting an unnecessary uphill battle. Despite having conclusively proven the relevance of positive Jewish engagement in the teenage years, the Israeli government is yet to make teen programming a priority. This remains shocking and incomprehensible to me.

From a lifetime of personal experience, I can say with authority that inspired and educated teens are the global Jewish community’s greatest asset. With their passion for Israel and Judaism ignited by programs like AMHSI, teens become community activists and conversation.

They influence people of all ages, engaging them in Jewish and Israel advocacy and shaping personal and communal Jewish identities and connections to Israel.

As the Jewish National Fund takes over the operation of AMHSI, a new board is being formed, made up of the leaders of both organizations, all leaders of the Jewish people.

In essence, I am not stepping down as chairman, I am stepping up – for it is planned that I step up to chairman emeritus. I am very proud that AMHSI’s outstanding achievements are being recognized by the JNF. It is now up to the Israeli government and the rest of the Jewish world to join the crusade for Jewish continuity.

The author is the outgoing chairman of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI)

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