Highlighting its crucial role in the lives of Israeli youth at risk, Yeshiva University’s Counterpoint Israel Program kicked off its 12th consecutive year with a communal bar mitzvah ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem for 13 grade-school students from the development town of Kiryat Malachi.
Slated to run from from July 4-24, the immersive service-learning initiative aims to empower Israeli youth, helping them tackle self-esteem issues while enhancing their levels of English competency and computer literacy to ensure their success in school and beyond. This summer’s program began with a festive bar mitzvah celebration, an educational experience that set the tone for another inspirational and transformative summer.
“Counterpoint Israel services teens who come from impoverished homes, and the program has become an educational lifeline for the campers and their families. While many of the young women in the program had celebrated a bat mitzvah over the past year, many of the incoming male campers had skipped over this very important milestone in their lives,” said Gabi Sackett, director of the Counterpoint Israel Program.
“We saw this as an opportunity to connect the campers with their Jewish roots and lay the groundwork for responsible and motivated Jewish adulthood. It was really the perfect way to start the summer, because it put an emphasis on Jewish identity and education.”
Together with non-profit partner Afikim, an Israeli organization that works to enrich the lives of families in need in Kiryat Malachi, and Rabbi Moshe Scheiner from Palm Beach Orthodox Synagogue, whose daughter was celebrating her bat mitzvah together with the Kiryat Malachi students, the YU Counterpoint Israel staff hosted an unforgettable celebration of Jewish heritage and values. During morning tefillah, all of the Kiryat Malachi students were presented with their very own pairs of tefillin. Later, at the seudat mitzvah, Rabbi Scheiner gifted them all beautiful, new watches.
“Counterpoint’s guiding principle is that we are one people with one heart. On a daily basis, our students lead the charge to break down the barriers that divide Diaspora and Israeli Jewry, spending their summers learning from the families in Israel’s South while simultaneously enriching the lives of youth at risk. The fact that my friend and colleague, Rabbi Scheiner, would choose to mark his child’s rite of passage with the young people from Kiryat Malachi is a true testament to the unifying power of Counterpoint,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, YU’s vice president for university and community life and the founder of Counterpoint Israel.
Staffed by 30 exceptional Yeshiva University students from the United States, Canada and Chile—including Yael Shoushan, Yosef Ajami and Orel Partush of Brooklyn, Jonathan Kornblau of Queens, Daniella Azose of West Hempstead, and Chaya Menasse of Monsey—three student-run Counterpoint Israel camps in the cities of Arad, Dimona and Kiryat Malachi provide 200 Israeli campers from varied socio-economic backgrounds with an unforgettable summer experience and crucial opportunities for identity building and personal enrichment. As in past years, the program includes classes given in English and workshops in arts, fashion, music, dance and sports.
For the first time in Counterpoint’s history, all of the campers will receive educational credit for their participation in the program, as the Israeli Ministry of Education recently approved the framework as an official continuing education program.
“After more than a decade of running successful summer camps, the Ministries of Education and Welfare have officially recognized our program as a direct continuation of the school year, in all three cities. This accreditation speaks to the high academic standards under which Counterpoint is developed and run. Additionally, it illustrates the program’s impact on the lives of the hundreds of students participating in our programs, as well as the overall need for more summer experiences that enhance the academic skills and buoy the self-worth of the young residents of Israeli development towns,” added Rabbi Brander.
Each Counterpoint Israel camp is staffed by 10 Yeshiva University undergraduate students who work together as educational teams to mentor the Israeli campers and teach them about Jewish history, heritage and culture through special trips, activities, team-building exercises and English-language reading and writing skills. The theme of this summer’s English curriculum, “Me and My Community,” aims to illustrate how advanced English skills can help the campers excel academically and set them down the road to professional success, thereby empowering them to improve their own lives and positively impact their communities.
In addition to educational excursions and leadership workshops in locations around the country, each group of campers will take part in historical tours in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, the City of David and the Western Wall promenade in honor of Jerusalem’s 50th anniversary.
Counterpoint Israel 2017 is run with support from The Jewish Agency, Partnership2gether; Neal’s Fund, in memory of Neal Dublinsky; Sharon and Avram Blumenthal; The Gamson Family, in memory of Dr. Bernard W. Gamson; and the municipalities of Arad, Dimona, and Kiryat Malachi.
By Elie Klein