Oct 23, 2008 — High school students from across North America will develop their skills as tomorrow’s leaders at the bi-annual Eimatai Leadership Development Conference in Poyntelle, PA, on November 9-11. The gathering is an opportunity for students to discuss issues and challenges facing the Jewish community with a view to understanding how they can make a positive impact. This year’s theme will be “Citizen Jew vs. Jewish Citizen: Exploring a Dual Identity.”
“The students will discuss how their Jewish values and American or Canadian values come together to make them who they are,” said Aaron Steinberg, director of the Eimatai Leadership Development Project, under the auspices of the Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future (CJF). “They will explore potential conflicts that may arise between these two sets of values and determine their own definitions of what it means to be an American/Canadian Jew.”
On the agenda for discussion will also be political issues such as America’s involvement in the Middle East peace process, the 2008 Presidential election, the Jonathan Pollard issue of an American Jew spying for Israel, and the question of American/Canadian Jews joining the Israeli Defense Force.
The conference will be led by 14 undergraduate Yeshiva University students who receive in-depth training for six months prior to the conference. The student “advisors” facilitate discussion groups, create informal educational programs and mentor the high schoolers in activist projects that they undertake after the event.
The conference is an invaluable leadership experience for the advisors as well. “This process shows them how to create an educational curriculum, how to see the larger picture of a program, and how to be effective informal educators,” Steinberg said. “This is a solid preparation and orientation for advisors who aspire to careers in formal and informal education.
One hundred student representatives from 12 schools across the United States and Canada will participate this year. They include: the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in Lawrence, NY; Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean, NJ; Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in West Hempstead, NY; Westchester Hebrew High School in Westchester, NY; Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York City; Queens Gymnasia in Queens, NY; the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ; Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA; Hebrew Academy of Montreal in Montreal, Canada; Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, NJ; Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn, NY; and Columbus Torah Academy in Columbus, OH.
After the conference, students from each school develop a program to implement in their community under the mentorship of the Eimatai advisors. Previous projects have included developing parks in low-income neighborhoods, creating environmental awareness initiatives, revamping a local food pantry, and raising the funds to send an entire school class to Israel. Advisors help students assess the needs of their project and continue to support them for the rest of the year.
“Eimatai strives to cultivate a community of student leaders,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF. “The critical aspect of this initiative is that while it does begin and end with a retreat, it creates relationships that continue throughout the year. It not only inspires the student representatives but transforms entire schools through the student leadership projects.”