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Madison student returns ‘empowered’ from prestigious Israel program
September 30th, 2009
When Louisa Kornblatt was a little girl and saw colorful posters of the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel on a wall of her synagogue, she dreamed of being able to go there one day. “They really stuck in my mind,” she recalls.
Reflecting back on it she puts it into perspective, “As I was gazing up at the pictures on the poster I was aspiring to stumble into that sea of successful Jewish faces.” That dream has now become a reality.
Upon returning from the five-week program this summer, the 17-year old Madison high school senior is eager to bring everything she learned back home to Madison. “I feel empowered,” she said in a recent telephone interview.
Only 26 fellows were selected from among nearly 300 applicants for the prestigious five-week program of study and travel that aims to cultivate North American Jewish leaders and inspire exceptional teens to become active participants in Jewish culture throughout their lives.
The selection process is extensive. About 60 finalists were chosen, based on letters of recommendation and three comprehensive essays. They were then invited for personal interviews with Bronfman faculty to make the final cut.
The Bronfman fellows travel all over Israel with the goal of exploring their Jewish identity through a myriad of experiences.
Through Jewish learning, a shared sense of identity and engagement with Israel, value of pluralism and diversity, program participants develop Jewish unity and social responsibility to apply their vision and talents to benefit the world around them.
Though she had been to Israel multiple times and spent one semester of high school in Ramah program called TRY at the same Goldstein Youth Village campus where they stayed, she faced this experience with some trepidation. She was nervous that the atmosphere would not encourage them to freely speak their mind.
But she found a very different reality. “I don’t mean to sound cliché, but this experience has changed my life and broadened my horizons,” she said.
For Louisa, the Bronfman program fulfilled a stinging need. “I have always searched for a fuller Jewish life,” she wrote in her Bronfman alumni essay.
She has longed to find similar-minded people her own age with whom to discuss things that move her the most and share her sacred thoughts while preserving her Jewish individuality, she said.
She now feels she has found them in her fellow peers at Bronfman and plans to stay in touch with them. “Everybody was very similar to me, and when I see everyone it will be like no time has passed,” she said.
For Louisa, the program environment was the opposite of high school because everyone actually wanted to be there; she and her peers came not with hopes of earning a high grade but for the pure sake of learning.
The fellows met with prominent speakers from across the board: authors, sociologists, journalists, politicians, philosophers, scientists and academic scholars — American and Middle Eastern, Arab and Israeli, Jewish and not.
“There were no distinctions and no boundaries between what was fun and what was class, what was a discussion and what wasn’t,” she said. The two — academic time and personal time — seamlessly blended together into a beautiful balance, and that’s exactly what she was looking for.
Of all the things she learned this summer, perhaps the most important is the ability to listen well, she said. As her opinions and beliefs were challenged, she sharpened her ability to realize the importance of opposite views.
She emphasizes, “We did a lot of teaching each other, and not necessarily being taught.”
Like all of the program fellows, Louisa is expected to devise and lead a social action project in her community. She has wasted no time and has already hit the ground running.
Her plans are to create a “junior congregation” program for grades three to five at her synagogue, Beth Israel Center, Madison’s Conservative congregation. She has already discussed it with her Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon and education director Beth Copelovitch.
She has been researching and getting Jewish literature appropriate for their age group, and plans to do Torah portions study. She also plans to work with older kids to encourage them to provide mentorship.
Preparing for the next chapter of her life, she is now applying early decision to her top college choice — Brown University — and is considering studying political science, international relations, government law, and languages. She wants to add Arabic to her arsenal.
Kornblatt is an active participant in her high school’s student government and in mock trials; she was an attorney and a witness last year. She practices yoga, dances — her specialty is modern dance — and has been playing piano since first grade.
The daughter of author, teacher, and playwright Marc Kornblatt and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Judith Kornblatt, Louisa credits her parents for creating a home environment that is intellectually nourishing. She said that she enjoys meaningful conversations and debates with her parents all the time.