I’m a mentor in the Write On For Israel program, which means that one Sunday a month I hear things like “I’m a lifelong Zionist” from juniors in high school. I want to respond with, “You’re 16!!!”
But then I remember how I was at 16 – that’s just 10 years ago in case you’re wondering – and all of my amusement at what my grandmother calls “youthful maximalism” dissipates. At 16, I thought I knew all the answers. And I thought I could give a lesson or two to my teachers. Here’s the catch: the student Fellows in the Write On program really could teach us a lesson or two and they really do know the answers in many cases.
The program is centered on teaching how to argue in support of Israel, while giving these future journalists, lobbyists and politicians the tools they need to be successful in their efforts. My role involves evaluating – not grading – their homework and leading discussions about their assignments and the lectures. I also might get to teach a session closers to the end of the seminar series in June.
When I first found out about the opportunity, I jumped at the chance. I had heard of the program in college and regretted that my hometown community – Cincinnati – did not have anything like it. I would have loved to develop my writing skills and simultaneously learn about Israel’s history, politics and current events. Although I kept up with Israel news, opportunities to learn about Israel from a variety of perspectives were limited. Besides Chicago, Write On programs thrive in three other communities: New York (where the program began), Cleveland and San Francisco.
In the Chicago program, we have participants who have grown up not only with complete access to information, but also opportunities to discuss issues surrounding Israel both at home and at school. We also have participants who have very vague ideas about what Israel’s history looks like but who believe that Israel is essential to the survival of the Jewish people. They are not afraid to speak up, to argue, to think about the issues surrounding this tiny speck of a land that has been the guiding light for generations of Jews.
All of the Write On Fellows are extremely bright and all have interests outside school and Israel. Some are on their school’s basketball team; others are very active in their synagogue’s youth group. Some go to Jewish high schools, while others are at suburban public schools. What draws them together is passion.
A testament to that passion is the Fellows’ extra commitment to spend six hours one Sunday per month learning alongside the instructors and mentors – and probably another five hours on homework a month for the next six months.
In the few meetings we’ve had so far and from reading their homework, it’s clear that Israel, writing, debate and, most importantly, learning in general are at the core of the Fellows’ being. They are excited about the program: In most cases they chose it rather than being pressured to apply by their parents. They aren’t here to pad their resumes (although the program’s prestige certainly looks great on a college application). And they signed up knowing it isn’t just a one-year commitment: Write On is a two-year program. Senior Fellows complete independent projects rather than spending time in a classroom.
Of course, sheer passion can’t win an argument. In fact, letting passion go to your head can quickly thwart even the best-planned line of reasoning. It’s our job as mentors and instructors to teach them the best ways to express their passion and devotion to Israel. We talk about sources and finding credible information; we read the foremost experts in the field; and we hear from dedicated professionals who put into perspective Israel’s past, present and future. The hope is that these future leaders might use the tools Write On gives them throughout their lives.