Junior Journey: Exploring the Triumphs and the Challenges

Rabbi Dean Kertesz
Winter seems to be hanging on this year, with continued rain. Great news for Israel, which has been suffering from drought for some years. Not so great for us as visitors. Fortunately, yesterday (Sunday) was a day with mostly indoor activities, so we walked between the raindrops all day.
We began our morning with a visit to the Bialik-Rogozin school, a special educational institution in South Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is home to almost 50,000 asylum seekers, mostly from the Sudan and Eritrea who have fled the violence and instability of their home countries for safety and opportunity in more stable countries. Simply put, Israel is the closest island of stability. Israeli government policy is ambiguous toward these unfortunate men and women, primarily men, not granting them refugee status, but not being able to deport them either. In addition, South Tel Aviv is home for many foreign workers who come to Israel to work for five years, but stay on after their visas have expired. These men and women, fall in love, marry and have children. Israeli law requires that all children, regardless of citizenship status, be educated. The Bialik - Rogozin school is a response to this challenge. It provides a K - 12 education to over 1,300 students from 51 countries. Almost all the children were born in Israel, speak fluent Hebrew and Israel is the only country they have known. The school is a powerful tool of education and integration. About half the children have Israeli residence and identity cards and 100% of them serve in the IDF after graduation. It also has one of the highest matriculation rates in Israel. It was deeply moving to see the ethnic and racial diversity of the students and the passion and commitment of the teachers and to see first hand a positive Israeli response to the worldwide refugee crisis. 
We followed our visit to Bialik-Rogozin with a visit to an Israeli high-tech startup, Fundbox. We met with a software engineer who was born in Israel and moved to Palo Alto with his family as a small child. After earning an engineering degree, he returned to Israel in his mid twenties to work in high-tech. His familiarity with the Bay Area and the atmosphere at the startup seemed completely familiar to our students who got a sense of the technology infrastructure of Israel and the conditions that help drive the high number of Israeli startups. 
We ended our day at the Palmach Museum, learning about the sacrifices of the "Generation of 1948," who fought to create the State of Israel. 
After a heavy day of learning, some students spent the evening with friends and family while those who did not had a fun evening in Jaffa.
Tomorrow we head south into the Negav. 
Jewish Community High School of the Bay
1835 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: 415.345.9777
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace their Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.