Meet the 2011 Diller Ashkelon Teen Fellows

“You are all my heroes,” said Ellen Kahan Zager at Monday’s Diller Teen Fellows luncheon at THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

The “heroes” she was referring to were not famous politicians, well-known philanthropists, authors or the like. They are teenagers from Ashkelon, Israel. They are volunteers who are working to make their community a better place.

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Each year, THE ASSOCIATED invests in the Diller Teen Leadership Program, a 14-month program of Jewish Volunteer Connection and the Center for Community Engagement and leadership. The year, based on four pillars of leadership, Israel, Judaism and community service, transforms high school juniors into the next generation of committed Jewish people. On the other side of the ocean, in our sister city, Ashkelon teens undergo a similar transformation.

The experience comes to a peak in March or early April, as the teens meet face-to-face for the first time. The “mifgash,” as it is called, is funded by the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership and gives the teens an opportunity to meet one another, experience American life with their counterparts’  families and to collaborate on one or more hands on volunteer project.

All of the Diller teens are strong and dedicated people; “they blow you away,” as Zager put it. Take Sasha. A Russian immigrant to Ashkelon, Sasha tutors ninth grade students in physics and math. Gal leads an Israeli Scouts group. Ben works one-on-one with a student with developmental disabilities at his school. Ron volunteers with Magen David Adom. Shelley heads the Ashkelon Youth Council, making sure the teens’ voices are heard.

They each play a role in bettering Ashkelon – for themselves, but mostly for their friends, siblings and the next generation. One teen said she gets, “satisfaction from knowing I am making a difference.” Another teen said the contribution each makes is small, but together they can change the world.

“We are willing to make change,” he said. “We are the future.”

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