TORONTO — One year ago, Nicole Gruz and Avital Zelver would not have believed that a high school English course could change their lives.
The two 17-year-old public school students, took part in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) Shakespeare in Jerusalem summer program, in which they toured Israel for four weeks in July while taking a fully accredited English literature course.
Avital Zelver and Nicole Gruz hold a havdalah candle in Israel this past summer.
Gruz, a Grade 11 student at Stephen Lewis Secondary School, said that although her family is from Israel, she had never travelled there independently, and she got an entirely new perspective of the country.
Led by English teacher David Wagman – head of English at Westmount Collegiate in Thornhill and at Ner Israel Yeshiva – and NCSY’s Shoshana Neuman who directed last year’s trip, 20 students spent six hours a day travelling to every corner of the country and incorporating it into their English studies.
“Everywhere we went turned into an English lesson,” Gruz said. “While on top of Masada, we wrote an essay about what we saw, and then we had a unit on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust before going to Yad Vashem.”
Zelver, a Grade 12 student whose family is also Israeli, said she had been to the Jewish state 11 times, “but never like this. I’ve always had the ‘Israeli experience’ but never the Jewish experience. We went to historical places and learned the background of our religion. I got an English credit and a love of Judaism in four weeks.”
Gruz said she is motivated to return to Israel to continue her studies when she graduates. “After this experience I want to learn more and more. It ended up so much more than an English credit.”
Neuman said the study portion of the trip was taken very seriously by the students. “All assignments had to be completed, and on the days that were set aside for students to do school work, we were always there to help out. They received a lot of attention so their skills improved. They got so much out of the course in an inviting way.”
Dana Grossman, director of NCSY summer programs, said that many teens take high school credits abroad, “but this is the only one in Israel. It is important to learn about our heritage.”
This year’s program, which will be headed by a different teacher, runs from June 30 to July 28, costs $5,990, and scholarships are available. The course includes sightseeing in all parts of Israel and a literature program that includes Canadian Jewish poets such as A.M. Klein, Leonard Cohen and Irving Layton. Students will also study Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and works by Amos Oz and Shalom Aleichem.
For more information, call Grossman at 905-761-6279 or visit www.ncsysummer.com.