Teens Learn to Be Leaders on Israel
Judah Lopatin (left) and Caleb Kleinfeldt (right).

Two local teens discuss their time with the Teen Israel Leadership Institute (TILI) virtual program.

Fall is the time for the annual Teen Israel Leadership Institute (TILI) in Atlanta, but COVID-19 once again made business as usual impossible. The Center for Israel Education made the most of the required change to online teaching and succeeded in engaging more learners than ever, drawing teens from wide geographic localities, including Metro Detroit.

Caleb Kleinfeldt of Huntington Woods, a junior at Frankel Jewish Academy, was one of the teens who participated. “I’ve been Zionistic my whole life and found this was a way to understand Israel on a very professional level,” said Kleinfeldt, who attends Kehillat Etz Chayim, an Open Orthodox synagogue in Oak Park and Huntington Woods. “I enjoyed the program and hearing the speakers.”

Kleinfeldt joined Judah Lopatin, son of Kehillat Etz Chayim Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who also attended the virtual program. “I wish there were more than two sessions,” said the sophomore at Farber Hebrew Day School. “I enjoyed learning about Zionism and its deep roots.”

Forty-one 10th- to 12th-graders — a 28% increase from the December 2019 TILI — from 11 states, Mexico, Paraguay, Panama and England gathered through Zoom for three hours of learning on two consecutive Sundays in November. They covered topics ranging from the history of Zionism and the prospects for peace in the 21st century to lessons in Israeli leadership, media coverage of Israel and Israeli politics through music.

“They were very engaged and really proved that they were excited to learn,” said CIE Teen Program Manager Michele Freesman.

One of the teens’ favorite sessions was an optional Israeli trivia game that helped students from Latin America to California to New York to Europe get to know one another. And despite missing out on a weekend at Emory University, the teens engaged with Emory undergraduates in a robust discussion of campus life.

The sessions included group work, as the teens strategized how to present what they learned to their own communities. Freesman said she hopes to increase the level of collaboration for virtual TILIs in 2021.

Applications are being accepted for the next TILI, to be held virtually on consecutive Sundays, Feb. 7 and 14, from 1-4 p.m.

High school students interested in attending the February TILI should visit israeled.org/teens to find more details and to submit applications, which are due Jan. 21. Thanks to generous donors, CIE is waiving the $54 registration fee this one time.

Kleinfeldt would recommend the program to teens “100%.” He does recommend, however, that teens do their homework and come to the program with a good background on Israel and its history. “This is not a basic program,” he said. “It goes into great depth.”

For additional information, contact Freesman at michele.freesman@israeled.org.