LA high school trains young Israel advocates

70 teenagers to spend six months studying in Hod Hasharon beginning in January on a Zionist program.

Students Tiferet Fellowship 370 (photo credit: Milken Community High School)
Students Tiferet Fellowship 370
(photo credit: Milken Community High School)
Next month, some 70 students from the 10th grade at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles will arrive for a semester of study in Israel.
The teens are part of a Zionism program at Milken called the Tiferet Israel Fellowship.
The program, which accompanies the students during their three years of high school, has for a goal to “foster the development of its fellows into individuals who are passionate about Israel,” as its mission statement explains.
Metuka Benjamin, president of Milken Community High School, founded the program seven years ago.
The initial program allowed youngsters to live in Israel for three months while studying and being hosted by a local family, but then evolved into a full semester abroad that takes place from January to June.
“They study the history of the country in the classroom in LA, but being in Israel, living here and seeing everything that they are studying about, makes it real and penetrates into their heart,” Benjamin said. “You can tell, when you speak to the kids, that it’s internalized and has become part of them.”
The teens study in a boarding school in Hod Hasharon where they are taught in both English and Hebrew. In parallel, they discover Israel and volunteer.
Students then go back to Los Angeles to complete the rest of their studies.
There, they learn how to formulate what they learn about advocating for Israel and even attend two AIPAC conferences.
“We bring speakers in, we teach them conflicts of the country, and we also teach them how to speak effectively with all the knowledge that they have accumulated in Israel,” Benjamin said.
Through this curriculum, Milken hopes “to create ambassadors for the State of Israel as well as future leaders in the American Jewish community.”
The Tiferet Fellowship also aims to teach participants the skills needed to lead Jewish students on college campuses as ambassadors for Israel.
After the three-year-experience, some graduates go on to enroll at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, where they can study in English for a BA while living in Israel. Some even join the IDF.
Benjamin’s vision comes from her deep commitment to Zionism, which she illustrated by quoting Theodor Herzl: “If there is a will, it is no dream.”
The Tiferet program operates by this motto, especially when it comes to financing the costly program, which is subsidized by Milken high school.
Out of the $9,000 the course costs for each students, families are asked to pay $5,000, but Benjamin explained that the school offers scholarships for families that cannot afford it: “We don’t deprive any child of going to Israel,” she said. “That will not happen at the school.”
Milken Community High School has many ways of promoting Zionism, such as through its orientation toward innovation and technology.
One of the flagship curricula at Milken is the Mitchell Academy for Science and Technology. Roger Kassebaum, who directs the program, was recently named STEM Educator of the Year by the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The program aims to develop scientific excellence through a variety of STEM (The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Coalition) courses including robotics.
Kassebaum will be bring his students to Israel in March, when they will be compete in a robotics competition against teams from Israel and other countries around the world.
“We want to have kids dream and have opportunities like these,” he said. “We want to make this possible for them.”
Kassebaum said he is amazed at the skills his students develop during the program: “It’s very rewarding as an educator to see the knowledge they have. They surprise me everyday.”
Technology is also a way for Milken high school to connect Jewish American teens to Israel as a start-up nation.
“We want our kids to know that Israel is a smart place,” Benjamin explained. “We want them to know that science is a value here, and it’s not all about what they see on TV.”
Benjamin and Kassebaum are visiting Israel this week to make preparations for the student’s robotics trip in March. Their agenda includes visiting Israeli high schools and handing Milken students’ letters to soldiers.