Sara Klein Wagner
Yael is not the easiest name to navigate with a barista or new acquaintance. Howard and I should know; we chose that name for our youngest daughter.
For years, Yael has heard virtually every possible mispronunciation and spelling of her name.
All that will change over the next few months. Yael, a junior at DuPont Manual High School, is spending a semester at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, where finally everyone can spell and pronounce her name correctly.
Alexander Muss is a popular 48-year-old study abroad program that transforms Israel into a living classroom.
When we chose modern Israeli names for Yael and our other daughters, I admit I had a not-so-hidden plan to spend more time in Israel, and for our girls to always feel a connection to the Jewish state.
Yael’s semester at Muss fits perfectly with that dream.
In addition to general studies, Yael and her peers spend time at least once each week on a tiyul (trip) to experience Israel firsthand. Every tiyul includes hiking, either with books in hand or for fun, including one recent 10-mile hike in the Negev.
Recently, the students started their week exploring Megido, one of the most important archeological sites in the country.
So far, according to Yael, every day at Muss is a new thing and a new schedule with new activities. General studies classes never convene more than three days in a row. The madrichim (counselors) plan camp-type activities.
Shabbat, of course, is different and important. The teachers do not assign homework over Shabbat and napping is a big deal.
Muss will be a great experience, not unlike the experiences other Jewish Louisville teens and young adults will soon enjoy.
I am so proud that Jewish Louisville recently launched an initiative to ensure every child in our community will be able to attend Jewish overnight camps and Israel experiences, in addition to Birthright Israel, an initiative that has sent more than 750,000 young adults from around the world to the Jewish state, connecting a whole generation with its heritage.
In Louisville, our expanded One Happy Camper and Passport to Israel programs recognize that, in addition to a first teen experience in Israel, a second experience creates an even stronger Jewish identity.
As a Jewish communal professional, I have watched the exhilarating moments when a first timer finds a personal connection in Israel. Yes, it is a complex country, but beyond the layers of its history and stories, many people find strong bonds. These bonds frequently transcend religion to include the modern Jewish state and people.
As a mom, I am excited for Yael and her opportunity to feel at home in Israel, continuing what will be a lifelong relationship and understanding of the history and the pioneering spirit of Israel.
There are many opportunities to engage with Israel. This summer five college students from Louisville will participate in internships through the ONWARD program. Andrew Tuvlin, Max Strull, Joey Schuster, Ethan Grossman and Jacob Ioffe.
There are many unique Israel opportunities for teens, students and adults. The Federation can help you find the perfect experience for you.
(Sara Wagner is the president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.)
Want to know more?
For more information on youth travel to Israel or overnight camping experiences, contact Sara Klein Wagner at 502-238-2779 or firstname.lastname@example.org.