Each year, the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel accepts just 26 outstanding North American teenagers to participate in its prestigious yearlong program. This year, Jacob Finke was chosen for this honor, only the third Louisvillian to make the cut. The two prior fellows were Abraham Levitan and Jacob Emont.
Bronfman Youth Fellows participate in a rigorous academic year of seminars including a free, five-week trip to Israel between the summer of their junior and senior years of high school. Participants come from diverse backgrounds and the program helps them grow into leaders grounded in Jewish identity and committed to social change.
During the program’s seminars, Fellows meet with leading intellectuals, religious and political leaders, and educators, such Etgar Keret, A.B Yehoshua, Sayed Kashua, and Rabbah Tamar Applebaum. The Fellows then participate in study and dialogue with our diverse faculty, which is made up of Rabbis and educators, associated with different movements and perspectives within Judaism.
Finke is a 17-year-old Manual High School junior in the High School University Program, who enjoys chemistry and getting into a good argument. Recently, he’s gotten very interested in government and politics and is considering pursuing that in college.
In March, he made a presentation at the JCPS Idea Festival “about campaign finance and money in politics and how it affects our political system,” he said.
In addition to his classes, Finke is a member of Manual’s Key Club, the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society and he earns volunteer hours with all of those groups. He particularly enjoys working with the children of Churchill Downs stable workers in the Backside Learning Center. Once a week, he tutors second and third graders and helps them with their homework.
He also runs track. His rare spare time is spent reading and sleeping.
An active member of Drew Corson AZA, Finke is the BBYO Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio regional vice president. In that capacity, he helps plan programs at regional conventions and oversees the chapter s’ganim (vice presidents). He monitors their performance, answers their questions and helps them fulfill their duties.
Prior to that, he served two terms as chapter godol (president), one term as s’gan and one term as mazkir (communications vice president). He has also attended numerous conventions and conferences, including an 18-day Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC) at Camp Beber and International Leadership Training Camp (ILTC) at Camp Perlman in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Last year, Finke was the recipient of the Stacy Marks Nisenbaum Award, which enabled him to attend ILTC.
Finke enjoys planning programs. About a year and a half ago, he did one that stands out for him. “We split everyone into groups and had them draw pictures,” he explained, “and we gave them restrictions on how they could communicate to simulate special needs and living with disabilities.”
He described it as a disability advocacy designed to raise awareness of the issue. “It went over really well and achieved its purpose. It has personal meaning to me,” he added, “because my little brother has special needs.”
Finke learned about the Bronfman Youth Fellowship Program from JCC Assistant Director of Youth Services and BBYO Director Mike Steklof and was intrigued by the program. “I’ve never been to Israel before,” he said, “so five weeks in Israel is mind-blowing. That is one of the things I’m looking forward to a lot.”
He is also excited about “the opportunity to learn about Judaism and how it relates to me,” he observed. “Spending five weeks with educators and other fellows who will challenge me and push me to discover and see how it all fits for me” will be rewarding.
“Hopefully,” he added, “I will come back with a new sense of Jewish identity.”
Upon returning home from the summer in Israel, Bronfman Fellows are asked to devise and lead local Jewish or social action projects.
Finke plans to keep a journal throughout the experience and from time to time will share his thoughts about the experience with Community.
He is the son of David and Helene Finke. His older brother, Cole, is a freshman at Cornell University, and his younger brother, Max, attends Bluegrass Center for Autism. The family belongs to The Temple.
The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel program was founded and is funded by Edgar M. Bronfman, z”l, formerly CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd. and a visionary Jewish philanthropist.
There are now over 1,000 Bronfman Fellowships alumni across North America and Israel, among them eight Rhodes Scholars, four former Supreme Court clerks, 15 Fulbright Scholars, 27 Wexner Fellows and 21 Dorot Fellows.