One of the most important parts of education, in my opinion, is experience. I’ve been blessed to have truly transformative experiences during my summers. Throughout my tenth and eleventh grade, I took part in a program called the Diller Teen Fellows. It is a Jewish leadership program, affiliated in Toronto with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, focused on building leaders as well as Jewish identity.
A main feature of Diller is that each Diaspora city is partnered with an Israeli city, and the fellows have a short exchange. First, the Israelis come to their partner cities for a week in the spring and live with another fellow. They learn about the Jewish community, volunteer and have fun while there. Then the Diaspora students spend a month in Israel. During this time, there is a week of volunteering in the partner city, and two separate conferences, one with just the international fellows, and one with all the fellows, including the Israelis. Diller also has four main pillars to its programming: Israel, Jewish Identity, Leadership and Tikkun Olam.
Personally, I took a lot out of the program, especially in terms of leadership. One of the highlights for me came during the International Congress (all the fellows), at a panel with 30 amazing leaders where we discussed techniques and what makes someone a leader. I certainly believe that I began implementing the leadership skills and ideas I learned then during my last two years in high school. The Diller International Congress itself was a highlight, where 500 fellows from four countries were together for six jam-packed days.
This program was a great example of the ideals of Torah, Avodah and Eretz Yisrael. After a week of volunteering in Eilat as well as working with the community, we experienced this meaningful Shabbat, incorporating the Jewish values I had learned through my years of education. An inspiring Carlebach minyan took place. Diller is a pluralistic fellowship, so I found it amazing to be in Israel with so many other incredible leaders from different backgrounds. It was definitely an experience that shaped me, especially as education done informally.
The primary definition for education is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.” However, a secondary definition is “an enlightening experience.” I think the second definition is overall much more encompassing. For me, education expands far beyond the classroom, and some of the lessons that resonate with me aren’t taught on a blackboard, but rather against the backdrop of life. The summer is prime time to take advantage of the many opportunities available and grow in ways that just aren’t possible throughout the year. No matter how you spend your time during the summer, make sure that it is an impactful experience that can hopefully last throughout the year.