According to the recent Pew Study of American Jews, nearly 60 percent of Jewish adults feel connected to Israel in some way. The study also found the connection is strongest among those who have visited the country. Those connections often begin in the teen years with organized trips providing a backdrop to formative experiences. The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee is helping to create those opportunities through incentive grants programs. One of those, the Mary and Harry Zimmerman Youth Exchange Endowment Fund, is helping to provide local teen, Bella Crowe, with the opportunity to spend the current semester studying at the URJ Heller High School in Israel. For the next four months, Bella will study, tour and experience Israel. “I’m so excited to visit all the historical places I’ve been learning about,” she says. Highlights of Bella’s semester will include a trip to Poland, four days of training in the IDF, and a sea-to-sea hike between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, all in addition to Hebrew and Judaic studies, and secular curriculum.
The Zimmerman Youth Exchange fund was created specifically to build connections during the teen years that will carry through into adulthood. Fred Zimmerman, Mary and Harry’s grandson, says, “Sponsoring youth trips to Israel was always a high priority for the family. And if you look at where a lot of foundations are going these days, you can see this was a little ahead of its time.” He adds that while Birthright trips have seen great success, there is also the realization that the program might have evolved differently had there been greater support for high school age trips. For Bella Crowe, the assistance she is receiving form the Zimmerman Fund is in large part what accounts for her being able to participate in the semester program. Adam Bronstone, Director of Planning and Israel Partnerships for The Jewish Federation, says, “This is exactly what this fund is for. To help young people have these defining experiences.”
Bella and her family are members of Congregation Micah in Nashville. Rabbi Laurie Rice says the whole community is excited Bella will be participating in the program. “We don’t have many in our community who can go to Israel for a whole semester. But it’s always been important to Bella and her family to be involved in congregation and our school,” she says. “Bella undoubtedly will grow in some amazing ways.” For her part, Bella says she can’t wait, “I just love being out there.”
During her time in Israel, Bella is hoping to spend a Shabbat with a family in The Federation’s partnership community. She also plans to share her experiences in The Observer. Readers can look for her columns in the coming months. She plans to return to Nashville in May.