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May 4, 2018  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Teens find Israel by traveling to Georgia


Rayna Weitzman, right, eating lunch with other students at the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. Rayna Weitzman, right, eating lunch with other students at the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. It wasn’t Rayna Weitzman’s first trip to Atlanta, or even to Emory Universty. She had visited the school a few times before, getting the lay of the land where she hopes to enroll in a couple of years. This visit though, opened her eyes to a whole new view of Israel.

Noah Ray, 17, and Weitzman, 15, both of Tampa, took part in the Center for Israel Education (CIE) Teen Israel Leadership Institute in Atlanta last month. The program is designed to give teens a more comprehensive view of Israel, allowing them to share that knowledge with others. For both teens, that meant embracing the good and the bad.

Ray, a junior at Blake High School, decided to sign up for the the program because it fell in line with his passion for teaching.

“Teaching is kind of fun,” said Ray, a Rodeph Sholom teacher assistant. “I like kids, so I thought it would be great to take what I learned and share it with them. I saw it as an opportunity to learn more.”

Noah Ray in his hotel room at the CIE Teen Leadership program at Emory University. Noah Ray in his hotel room at the CIE Teen Leadership program at Emory University. In all 23 high school sophomores and juniors from across the U.S. plus two from Israel attended the leadership institute

Emory University hosted the program and the students gathered at Emory Hillel for Shabbat and ice breakers. Afterward, Ken Stein, Emory professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History, Political Science and Israeli Studies, gave a lecture on why Israel matters to American Jews.

Ray said Stein’s talk resonated with him for an unusual reason: Stein said that Israel wasn’t perfect.

“Israel is not perfect. It hasn’t always been accepting of everyone,” said the 17-year-old. “There’s something I like about hearing that. Israel isn’t as perfect as everyone wants to think it is, nothing is ever perfect. But Israel is sure trying to be.”

Weitzman, a Plant High School sophomore, said Stein’s lecture stuck with her as well. She was surprised to hear about some of the less altruistic parts of Israel’s history and happy to better understand Israel’s political processes.

“His lecture stood out to me,” she said. “He told us that in order to own a story, you have to know the story. We have to know everything about Israel to be able to claim it.”

For these teens, that included learning about the good and the bad. They were both surprised to learn that when the state of Israel was first formed, European Jews were treated to nicer apartments and better food, while African and Middle Eastern Jews were kept in basically internment camps, said Ray. On the positive side, Weitzman was in awe of how the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was in existence and active even before Israel was an official state.

Throughout the weekend, the teens learned about Israel’s geopolitical standing, geography and history. They also got to learn about each other.

Weitzman wants to be a surgeon one day and intends on getting her degree at Emory University. Her roommate during the weekend is taking some of the same classes she is in school, including Latin. She liked that no matter where the kids were coming from, whether they were Conservative. Orthodox or Reform, it was “cool to see we knew a lot of the same tunes.”

For students that are interested in registering for next year’s event, both Ray and Weitzman shared the same advice: study up on Israeli history and politics. Each teen said that was the main focus of the weekend and any previous knowledge certainly helped.

For more information on the CIT Teen Leadership Institute, visit

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