Last month, a group of 18 high-school “Young Ambassadors” returned from Budapest, as part of an Israeli solidarity delegation to Hungary.Their mission: to forge a bridge with their Hungarian peers, and deliver a message of support and unity to the Hungarian Jewish community. The Young Ambassadors also came to convey what Israel really means to them – “their” Israel and not the one all too often unfairly portrayed in the global media.The Young Ambassadors delegation was led by The Israeli Jewish Congress together with the Young Ambassadors School, located in Petah Tikva.The students, aged 16 to 17, came from diverse backgrounds; however, all were united in their desire to represent a positive image of their country and to connect with their fellow students.The aim of this project, which is the third IJC-led international delegation of high school students to Europe, is simple, yet has never been more important: to train the next generation of Israeli Jewish leaders how to be better advocates for the State of Israel, and leaders in their own communities.A team of dedicated experts from the school, together with the IJC, equipped the select group of promising students with substantive knowledge on topics such as Zionism, the Middle East conflict, democracy and Israel as a modern innovative nation, together with training in personal skills such as leadership, communication, social entrepreneurship and the art of diplomacy.The one-week trip to Budapest was the culmination of an intensive two-year training program, allowing the students to put some of these newfound skills into practice. During the visit, the Young Ambassadors were received by Andras Heisler, president of the Hungarian Jewish Community (Mazsihisz), and officials from the Israeli Cultural Institute in Budapest, who spoke about the issues and challenges facing the Hungarian Jewish community and its relationship with Israel.They also received high-level briefings about the State of Israel, Hungarian bilateral relations and the Hungarian government’s efforts to combat rising anti-Semitism, from Israel’s Ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, and from Hungarian officials at the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the parliament – including Hungary’s incoming ambassador to Israel, and the Hungarian prime minister’s special adviser on combating anti-Semitism.The Young Ambassadors paid respects to those who perished during the Holocaust, with moving visits to the “Shoes on the Danube” Memorial, the Hungarian Holocaust Museum and the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, where they recited Kaddish and sang “Hatikva.”The centerpiece of the trip, however, was meeting with Jewish students from high schools and Zionist youth movements, but importantly, also with non-Jewish teens from the Faith Church, one of the most prominent non-Jewish supporters of Israel and the Jewish community in Hungary.Without a doubt, the most significant aspect of the visit was this opportunity for the Israeli students to connect with their Hungarian peers, to give them a sense of what it is like growing up as a teenager in Israel, what the Jewish state means to them and the importance of maintaining strong links with the Diaspora. At the same time, it was an opportunity for the Israelis to hear the perspective of the Hungarian students, and to allow them to reach out and connect.The delegation to Hungary follows in the footsteps of prior IJC Young Ambassador delegations with different schools in the past 12 months, including to London and Paris. Given their overwhelming success, IJC will seek to bring further delegations to other parts of Europe in the near future.IJC president and co-founder Vladimir Sloutsker says “the IJC is proud to support this type of project with various partners, because we look at this as an indispensable investment in the future leadership of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”For this reason, the IJC has identified this project as a flagship program, combining what Sloutsker says are two of the principal goals of the organization: the promotion and support of Israel in the international community, especially in Europe; and equipping the next generation of young leaders with the necessary skills to become future advocates for Israel and the Jewish people. The school is headed by Ambassador Yitzhak Eldan, who had a distinguished 41- year career as a diplomat in the Foreign Ministry, including seven years as the chief of protocol and as Israel’s ambassador to Denmark and UNESCO.Eldan, likewise, describes the students as “future leaders of our nation,” adding that the goal of the project is “to prepare Israeli youth for the challenges facing Israel abroad,” including the “struggle for a better image of Israel.”Asked at a group session at the end of the trip their purpose in applying to join the delegation to Hungary, the students said it was to “convey to others abroad what the real Israel is like, and how beautiful it is and no different from any other country, while also learning skills that will make us more effective ambassadors in the future.”These teenagers, whose intelligence, passion and Zionism belie their age, added: “We also want to create common bridges with all students from around the world, to connect, learn and to support one another.”The IJC recognizes that, although still in high school, these students will soon have to join the IDF, study, work and travel abroad – all this at a time when Israel’s legitimacy continues to come under attack, anti-Semitism across Europe is rising and the need to strengthen the special bond between Israel and the Diaspora has never been stronger.For most of the students, one of the most memorable experiences of the trip was the Shabbat service they attended at a small Budapest synagogue, dating back well before the Holocaust. As they walked in, the congregation was reciting the prayer for the well-being of the State of Israel and the IDF. Leaving the synagogue, the students remarked how touching it had been, reinforcing that “whether we are Jews in Israel or Europe, we are one people – with the State of Israel uniting us all.”Not all the students will become diplomats, but all will become “ambassadors” for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. It is therefore vital to endow them with the skills today that will make them leaders tomorrow.