Leaders of two Zionist youth movements conceived an event for teens and educators motivated by a single question: “What are the needs of Jewish teens?”
“If you will it, it is no dream,” Zionist leader Theodor Herzl wrote in 1902.
More than a century later, Herzl’s words — translated into Hebrew — served as the inspiration for an auspicious gathering of educators and Jewish teens called Ein Zo Agada (“It Is No Dream”), which took place on a recent Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
The event was conceived by leaders of two Zionist youth movements — Habonim Dror and B’nei Akiva — and motivated by a single question: “What are the needs of Jewish teens?”
The answer was education — in particular about Israel.
“Jewish youth arrive to college without having experienced a meaningful encounter with Israel,” said Anya Friedman Hutter, a student at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the heads of Habonim Dror’s year-round programming in Philadelphia. “The facts and stories they learn prior to arriving at college don’t always prepare them for the intense rhetoric around Israel they are about to experience. Jewish teens, we realized, lack the educational tools to think personally and critically about Israel with a sense of responsibility.”
But how to provide those tools in a way that would be engaging? How to make the subject matter dynamic and relevant for teens from different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds? How to talk about the charged subject of Israel in a safe space, and cultivate intimacy?
“We ultimately planned a two-part program,” Hutter said. “First, the participants met each other and explored their connection to Israel. Then we explored different ways to relate to Israel through funny fictional characters.”
The workshop was fun, but had its share of serious moments.
“The kids truly grappled with hard questions that went beyond whether we care about Israel,” Hutter said. “We asked ourselves why we care about Israel, and how we can bring Israel into our lives.”
One participant was 17-year-old Hannah Boroff, a senior at Central High School.
“I am a Zionist who does not always agree with Israel’s actions,” she said. “I love talking about Zionism with anybody who will because there are so many interesting views. I enjoy discussing Zionism to learn how other people view it and to learn their definitions of it.”
Boroff said the workshop was thought-provoking and diverse.
“It was nice to talk about it with Jews from all sorts of youth groups and movements. We all had a chance to express what Zionism means to us individually and our movement and to reflect on what other people had to say.”
At the end of the event, participants stood in a circle and connected ideas to each other with a literal web of string — “a physical representation of the diverse but connected community we’re working to create,” Hutter said.
That connected community made the workshop happen.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia provided space for Ein Zo Agada and buses to bring participants from the suburbs. The Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region helped pay for kosher food and sent a deputy consul general to speak to the group.
Organizers got input from other Jewish youth groups — Hashomer Hatzair, NFTY, USY and BBYO — as well as synagogue youth groups.
“Our movements are great at forming tight-knit communities, and Ein Zo Agada was a first step toward increasing our communication and collaboration in the Jewish community,” said Hutter, who wants to capitalize on the event’s success with an expanded event next year. “We learned that together we are stronger, even when we don’t walk away with all the answers to our questions.”
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