Tali Rubenstein (left) and Lenna Petersen (right)
Tali Rubenstein (left) and Lenna Petersen (right).

Editor’s Note: After realizing the cancellation of summer programs and camps for Jewish teens throughout North America would leave them without a meaningful summer experience, the Shalom Hartman Institute and national and local partners recruited 260 emerging teen leaders to engage in a month-long fellowship. Two of those teens agreed to write about their experience for the JN.

By Tali Rubenstein

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Emerging Jewish Thought Leaders: Together At Home. I was supposed to be at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for my final summer, but COVID-19 disrupted those plans. I had to readjust everything and decide the best way to spend my summer. 

When I found out that I would have the chance to learn with several hundred teens from all over the country and to talk about issues happening in the Jewish community and issues happening all over the world, I was intrigued.

Over the course of a month, we had three weekly Beit Midrash sessions and after every single one, I reflected on what I learned and what the other teens had to say. The most memorable Beit Midrash session was “Israel as Home for All its Citizens,” with Mohammad Dawarshe and Masua Sagiv. Dawarshe, an Israeli Arab, and Sagiv, an Israeli Jew, discussed and debated the ongoing issues in Israel and whether they think a two-state solution is still possible. 

Over the course of the session, we explored the role of Israeli Arabs in society overall. Being able to listen to Dawarshe’s story and his views on Israel really changed my perspective, too. I believe that the State of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, but I think Israel needs to continue finding more ways to be inclusive to all Israeli citizens so they can feel at home, too.

I really want to thank the Hartman Institute for giving me the privilege of listening to amazing speakers and for giving us all a voice. I can’t wait to use what I learned from this program and to bring it with me all the way to Israel.  

Tali Rubenstein lives in West Bloomfield. This school year, she will be attending Alexander Muss High School in Israel for a semester, and then returning to Groves High School for the remainder of her junior year.

By Lenna Petersen

Throughout my time as a fellow within Shalom Hartman’s Emerging Jewish Thought Leaders: Together At Home program, I was consistently pushed to grow as a student as well as a Jewish teen. I was able to explore my Judaism, strengthen connections and build new relationships. But most of all, my thinking was challenged, unfailingly, every single day.

Whether it was through my elective about meritocracy and the ways in which it influences the Jewish community or Beit Midrash sessions where I was able to listen to some of the most accomplished individuals speak, I found myself continuously questioning my morals and beliefs. 

Most of all, I looked forward to my small group discussions, in which I was able to unpack the most challenging topics within a more personal setting. Being able to speak with teens just like me from across North America was incredibly impactful and, despite the many miles between us, I found myself forming unique connections.

Above all, being able to create a capstone project that encompassed my knowledge from the summer was the most influential component of this experience. I chose to explore further how social justice is a fundamental part of our Judaism, and I did so through creating a website with a close friend and member of my small group cohort. Being able to provide others with ways to help various social justice movements was significant and subsequently helped to strengthen my argument. 

Ultimately, being able to learn and grow as a Jew during such an unprecedented time was beyond enlightening. Exploring the contemporary challenges that North American Jews face evidently challenged and shaped the way I live my life. I am incredibly grateful to have been able to be a part of this program, and this experience is one that I will undoubtedly never forget.

Lenna Petersen is a rising junior at Bloomfield Hills High School, and is passionate about social justice, journalism and politics. She is NFTY Michigan’s communications vice president and loves to spend her summers at Goldman Union Camp Institute.

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