The Magic of Alexander Muss High School in Israel

‘The school’s alumni come away with an increased sense of personal independence and maturity, and a better sense of their own Jewish identity,’ said Rabbi Leor Sinai.

The Magic of Alexander Muss High School  in Israe (photo credit: JNF USA)
The Magic of Alexander Muss High School in Israe
(photo credit: JNF USA)
‘Education is the greatest cause of our time,” said Rabbi Leor Sinai, co-CEO of Alexander Muss High School in Israel-Jewish National Fund (AMHSI-JNF), affectionately known as “Muss,” which provides a blend of high-quality secular studies and experiential Jewish learning for visiting high school students in grades 10-12, using the land of Israel as a virtual classroom.
Sinai explained that students from North America and around the world who attend Muss, which is based in Hod Hasharon near Tel Aviv, receive a top-quality secular education during their semester abroad (six- and eight-week programs are also available).
“We are an American-accredited academic semester abroad program in Israel,” he said. “We’re not a travel program, and we’re not a summer camp.” Small class sizes and advanced placement courses, added Sinai, provide an excellent learning environment. In fact, most students leave Muss with a higher GPA than when they entered. Most importantly, studies show that high school graduates who have studied abroad for a semester, frequently have an edge when applying to college. The combination of these factors makes Muss an excellent choice for secular studies.
When it comes to Israel and Jewish studies, this program stands out for its ability to use the land of Israel as a type of experiential classroom.
Masada becomes the classroom. Mount Gilboa, Jerusalem – we teach Israel chronologically,” said Ron Werner, AMHSI-JNF president.
“When our students visit Masada, they wake up before dawn, climb the mountain, and then read Josephus to get a perspective on the events of the time. We need them to think in the sandals of the person of that time, to see a world view from two thousand years ago,” he said.
Sinai, who speaks with infectious enthusiasm, said that the type of hands-on experiences that Muss students get is something that no other Jewish educational program can offer. “You can’t get this in Sunday school in Peoria or Miami or New York. There is no substitute for a long-term program in Israel. A 10-day visit to Israel is nice, but to spend four months where you are living the Jewish calendar, in the Jewish state, not observing one Shabbat, but 16, experiencing many Jewish holidays… these experiences are invaluable.
“The school’s alumni come away with an increased sense of personal independence and maturity, and a better sense of their own Jewish identity,” said Sinai. “One student told me that when he left for Israel, his mother drove him to the airport, and accompanied him to the gate for his flight. By the time the student returned four months later, he was able to navigate his life with far greater conviction and confidence. He had climbed Masada, studied and passed final exams, and had learned enough about Jewish history to express himself with confidence.”
On a Jewish level, said Sinai, Muss alumni become changed forever. “At the end of the program, they say, ‘I know more today than I ever did. I am thirsty and hungry and want to learn more.’”
The Magic of Alexander Muss High School  in Israe (Credit: JNF USA)
The Magic of Alexander Muss High School in Israe (Credit: JNF USA)
When JNF-USA acquired the school five years ago, it added a key component to its Israel continuum. “We now have a continuous platform for ongoing Jewish learning and Israel engagement,” said Sinai. “JNF-USA’s Zionist education starts in pre-school with Blue Box Bob, continues through elementary school, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, through high school and then into college and beyond. The Muss experience plays a vital role in growing a teenager’s knowledge, passion, and commitment for the land and people of Israel, and their Jewish identity.”
Hannah Miller, a Phoenix-area high school student, embodies such an experience. She spent a summer in Israel working with Ethiopian immigrants and wanted to return. Her mother, Lori, said they looked into Muss and found its program to be a good, reputable one and they liked its academics and the fact that Hannah kept pace with her studies.
“Hannah spent a successful semester at Muss and was accepted to Harvard. She is very active in Hillel and is now studying advanced Hebrew,” said her mother. “Muss gave her a great foundation. It provided the whole package.”
Russell F. Robinson, CEO of JNF-USA, said that creating positive Israel experiences for students like Hannah Miller is part of JNF-USA’s mission. “We view our mission as connecting Jews from the Diaspora with Israel.
“Alexander Muss High School in Israel is part of our ‘Birth to Boardroom’ initiative, designed to keep young Jewish people connected, engaged, involved and educated, and create the Jewish leaders of tomorrow. This school is among the most impactful and influential experiences in a child’s life and when our students return home we engage them in college programs and activities, and then in our JNFuture group for 22-40-year-olds.
The Magic of Alexander Muss High School  in Israel (Credit: JNF USA)
The Magic of Alexander Muss High School in Israel (Credit: JNF USA)
“We’re giving them the best courses in calculus and biology and history at Muss,”said Robinson. “We emulate whatever their academics are at their school,so that they can get into schools like Harvard, Yale, and Cornell.”
Five years ago, Muss had 750 students. This year, the student population has increased to 1,400. Muss president Ron Werner said that the immediate goal is to increase the student body to 2,000, and, in the long-term to reach an annual enrollment of 5,000 students. The state-of-the-art JNF-USA Israel Education and Technology campus is being built in Beersheba and among its programs will be housing Muss’ southern campus to accommodate the growth.
Werner calls Muss’ immersive educational experiences “Muss Magic.”  “We challenge the students intellectually, we help them develop the ability to think critically, and to be articulate,” he said. “If you take a survey of synagogues, JCCs and other Jewish institutions, you will find that Muss alumni are everywhere in Jewish life.”
With more than 30,000 alumni in its storied 47-year history, Alexander Muss High School in Israel continues to encourage, educate, and inspire its students to become part of the next generation of Jewish leadership.
This article was written in cooperation with Jewish National Fund-USA.