My name is Sarah-Anne Seligman and I am in 11th grade. I’m from Atlanta, GA and I chose to come to Alexander Muss High School in Israel for the Fall semester of 2020 because I wanted to grow my Jewish Identity, be more independent, and make greater connections with myself and my friends. Upon arriving on the AMHSI program all 71 students were put into a mandatory bidud (quarantine). I had three other girls in my capsule and I became friends with them instantly. We talked about our Jewish identities, got closer, and now I consider them sisters. After the two weeks of laughing, talking, and enjoying life to the fullest, bidud was over and we got our dorm rooms.

Sarah-Anne Seligman, AMHSI participant

I was super nervous to get my room because I had such a good time in bidud, I didn’t want anything to ruin that. After I found out who my roommates were I was in such relief because they are the sweetest people ever. The next day we went on a three day tiyul (field trip) to Mt. Gilboa, hiked down the mountain and learned all about Devora and other Judges in the Tanakh for our Israel Studies class. After we hiked, we went to a swimming hole and swam with everyone which was so fun because it was the first time that everyone was together. Unfortunately, for the next three weeks Israel went into lockdown and we could not go on any Tiyulim so we made the most of it working and being in school. Those three weeks brought the community together and without them I think that people would not be as close as they are today. After lockdown ended, we went to a Tiyul where we farmed and it was such an eye opening experience.

A couple of weeks ago we went to Jerusalem for five days after lockdown ended, it was so fun and spiritual. We crawled through different caves, went to the Kotel, and had a blast. For that trip, I only had one roommate and we became so close. She is one of the nicest people ever and she is my best friend here. When we are not on a tiyul we are in regular classes. I am taking five general studies classes plus Hebrew and Israel Studies. Being at AMHSI has forced me to have really good time management skills, helped me get out of my comfort zone, and helped me gain confidence in my Jewish identity.

JumpSpark helped me come to Israel financially and they gave me people to talk to before I came on the program which helped to know what to pack, what to wear, what to know before going on the program and they were super helpful with everything I needed. I chose to come to AMHSI because I wanted to start my education in Israel Studies, the Tanakh, learn Hebrew, and become a better young Jewish adult.

Sarah-Anne received a $1000 Spark Grant towards a Gap Year in Israel.

ATLANTA, GA – The Atlanta Kesher Teen Engagement Fellowship, the exciting new peer- to- peer engagement opportunity for Jewish teens in grades 10-12 offered by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), has officially kicked off its second year. The 25 fellows participating in 2020-21 represent 14 high schools, 7 synagogues, and 11 zip codes across the metro Atlanta area.

Based on successful models in other parts of the country, the Atlanta Kesher Fellowship brings a different engagement experience to Atlanta’s Jewish teens. Tailored training on peer to peer engagement allows teens to strengthen their relationship building skills, understand the importance of face to face communication, and learn a new way of engaging their peers.

Funded in part by a JumpSpark grant through the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, this fellowship doesn’t involve a strenuous amount of hours, rather it is created for the busy teen and allows them the to create their own schedules strengthening time management skills. Teens will develop a variety of practical business, social, and leadership skills throughout the fellowship and receive expert mentoring and support to create meaningful Jewish engagement for their peers. At the end they receive a $200 stipend for all their hard work! New for 2021, a cohort of teens from The Temple are participating in a modified version of the fellowship with mentorship from Temple staff.

“The Temple is proud to partner with the ATL Kesher Program because we share the same goal of working to connect our teens through peer-to-peer engagement. Our hope is that teens who are connected to The Temple’s teen community will plan a variety of events for their peers while strengthening their own leadership skills, management styles, and ability to build relationships.”  – Elizabeth Foster, Jewish Identity & Experiences Educator The Temple & Breman Education Center

The fellows are tasked with planning three small events (3-10 people) throughout the school year. These events include things, like a Shabbat dinner, Havdalah hike, or a philanthropic father and son basketball game. This year the task is to create exciting events in a virtual setting. These events include things like a virtual Hanukkah cookie decorating class, virtual Jewish Jeopardy night, or a virtual Shabbat Dinner or Havdallah service. The idea is to create small events relating to Judaism that have large impacts on the teens who aren’t as engaged in Jewish life in Atlanta. Creating more ways for teens to positively interact with Judaism will allow them to pave their own Jewish journey and lead to a greater impact on their lives.

At the inaugural fellowship on September 13, the teens learned the importance behind the work they are doing, why face -to -face communication is beneficial, and the power of inclusivity.  This year’s training also focused on how to engage your peers in this new virtual reality. “We are training these fellows to plan meaningful experiences in any setting they can.”- Jessie Schwartzman, Atlanta Kesher Engagement Coordinator. The fellows left the kickoff ready to take on Jewish Atlanta!

Matthew Hirsch (17) reflected after meeting his fellowship peers at the kickoff: “I’m excited to be a Kesher Fellow because I want to make a positive impact in the Jewish Community by bringing people together that would not want to otherwise be involved.”

The 2020-21 Kesher Fellows Include:
Ali Becker, Temple Sinai

Courtney Caplan, The Temple

Tali Cohn, Temple Sinai

Dylan DeSimone, The Temple

Danielle Faulhaber, Temple Kehillat Chaim

Isabelle Fishbein, The Temple

Harrison Frank, Temple Emanu-El

Alexa Freedman, Temple Emanu-El

Matthew Hirsch, Temple Beth Tikvah

Emma Hurwitz, Temple Beth Tikvah

Katie Hurwitz, Temple Beth Tikvah

Caitlin Kilinc, The Temple

Andrew Levingston, Temple Sinai

Jordy Levy, Temple Emanu-El

Tali Lipton, Temple Sinai

Jaron Pearson, Temple Emanu-El

Ben Ragals, Temple Emanu-El

Lily Ragals, Temple Emanu-El

Amit Rau, The Temple

Elisa Rosenthal, Temple Sinai

Sara Serrano, Chabad of Gwinett

Hunter Siegel, Temple Sinai

David Strauss, Temple Sinai

Deirdre Weissman, Temple Kol Emeth

Noa Young, Temple Sinai

“We’re incredibly grateful to JumpSpark and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for their support and partnership in creating and funding this program. Year 1 was a success despite a challenging spring, and while Year 2 is certainly not what we had planned for, I have no doubt that our teens and staff will continue to be creative and thoughtful in engaging Atlanta’s Jewish teens.”  – Adam Griff, Business and Program Manager, URJ Youth Southeast.

In addition to the peer-to-peer fellowship, the URJ is planning to expand the Atlanta Kesher fellowship to train teen songleaders. Future programming could also support teens engaged in social justice work.

The Union for Reform Judaism’s youth programs instill a sense of joy, compassion, and pride in being Jewish while nurturing a young person’s innate desire to make a difference in the world. Central to the URJ’s strategy is collaboration with Reform congregations, other Jewish organizations and individuals who are committed to youth engagement.