Cole Aronson is just back from five weeks in Israel and is trying out his technique for getting over jet lag.
“Sleep for a few hours, then force yourself to stay awake as late as possible, then crash for a few hours so you can have a relatively normal day. Nap the next day if needed.”
But the 16-year-old’s Israel trip is only the first part of his Bronfman Youth Fellowship, a yearlong immersive educational experience he is sharing with 25 other North American high school seniors.
The group will reunite for two weekend seminars during the school year. Aronson says he will miss the spring gathering because he’ll be back in the Holy Land with his class from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.
As the school year approaches, he is also considering what he’d like to do for his community service project, which pairs a Bronfman fellow with an alumnus of the program, founded in 1987 by philanthropist Edgar M. Bronfman.
While in Israel, the group spent much of its time in Jerusalem, seeing the city’s “greatest hits,” says Aronson, a member of Conservative Ohr Kodesh Congregation, who has visited the country twice before. More interesting to him were the seminars, text study and guest speakers, including novelist and peace activist A.B. Yehoshua and Rabbi Daniel Gordis of the Shalem Center think tank.
“I wanted to meet smart and interesting Jewish high school students from around the country,” he says of his reason for joining the fellowship. “Being in Israel was secondary to the people I would meet.”
The Bronfman Fellowship emphasizes Jewish learning, social activism, engagement between North American Jews and their Israeli peers, and pluralism. On this last, Aronson thinks Bronfman has some work to do. His group had “a large range but not a large deviation.”
Participants included Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist teens, but the majority was nonpracticing, he explains, “which bears a resemblance to American Jewry” but made it all but impossible to gather an all-male minyan so the Orthodox boys could conduct a Shacharit morning service.
The point of pluralism is that everybody’s notions get challenged, Aronson says, adding he wanted to see more of that, even if it brought discomfort.
“You don’t want to be too comfortable,” he says. “I thought there were too many people who were comfortable in their Judaism, myself included.”
Still, he says, “I credit the Bronfman program with putting a lot of ideas into our heads and letting us figure it out for ourselves.” More on Cole Aronson here.