Two Canadian high school students are among the recipients of the prestigious Bronfman Fellowship.
The program was founded in 1987 by Edgar M. Bronfman, philanthropist and former CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd., who died in 2013. The fellowship was based on Bronfman’s belief that for the Jewish People to thrive, Israeli and North American Jews from a variety of backgrounds must be engaged in open and creative discourse with one another.
Bronfman Fellowship alumni include Daniel Handler (a.k.a., Lemony Snicket), author of the Series of Unfortunate Events children’s books; author Jonathan Safran Foer and Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, the first woman to be named senior rabbi at New York’s Central Synagogue and the first Asian-American to be ordained as a rabbi and cantor.
Twenty-six Grade 11 students chosen from 252 applicants across North America will participate in a five-week program of study and travel in Israel, followed by a year of programming, centred around pluralism, social responsibility and Jewish texts.
Brantford, Ont., resident Shulie Smolyanitsky is an honour student at Brantford Collegiate Institute. Enrolled in the performance stream of her school’s stage & screen specialist high skills major program, she is involved in her school’s theatre department as an actor, director and producer. Smolyanitsky also began the BCI For Malala fundraiser, to raise awareness for girls’ education in the developing world. She also volunteers as a historical interpreter at the Bell Homestead National Historic Site.
“I was thrilled to learn that I had been selected for the Bronfman Fellowship. The application process and the interviews became a great learning experience for me, so I was really excited for the opportunity to continue that discourse and reflection for the next year,” said Smolyanitsky. “Being accepted to the program is definitely a credit to my family and teachers. They’ve instilled a strong sense of seeking knowledge my whole life.”
Ottawa resident Alexander Moss, who is homeschooled, helps create and promote events for Congregation Beit Tikvah. He was one of Limmud Ottawa’s two delegates at Limmud UK, the international festival of pluralistic Jewish learning, in December 2016. And after learning more than 400 chapters of Tanach (the Hebrew Bible), he placed 10th in the 2016 International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth in Jerusalem. Moss also volunteers with Heritage Ottawa, helping with research and on walking tours.
“I had been dreaming of (being chosen) since I first heard about the Bronfman Fellowship years ago,” said Moss. “I reread my acceptance letter half a dozen times, to make sure there was no mistake.”
The fellows represent a range of Jewish backgrounds, including Chabad, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular. They will study with faculty, including Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, executive director of the Edgar M. Bronfman Centre for Jewish Student Life at New York University, and meet with political and cultural figures in Israel, such as authors Etgar Keret and A.B. Yehoshua, and politician Ruth Calderon. They will also spend a week with a group of Israeli students who were chosen through a parallel selection process, as part of the Israeli fellowship, known as Amitei Bronfman. Upon returning home at the end of the summer, they will spearhead Jewish community or social action projects, as part of the Bronfman curriculum.
“I’m originally from Israel, so I’ve always been keen to explore Israeli life and society. That’s much more than just enjoying the sightseeing and delicious food,” said Smolyanitsky. “It’s one thing to study history, politics and global affairs through school and the news, but the chance to see and experience those topics first hand is very unique.”
Moss is also excited about the people he will meet.
“The diversity of the fellows’ ethnic, religious and ideological backgrounds and outlooks is amazing – I can’t wait to meet them. After reading the other fellows’ group introductions, I can’t wait to challenge their perspectives and for them to challenge mine,” he said.