Five full scholarships for an eight-week session at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) are being offered to eligible Pittsburgh students for the fall of 2017, from Sept. to Nov. 3.
AMHSI, founded in 1972, provides an immersive educational environment in the Jewish state for American high school students, combining traditional classroom learning with hands-on exploration of Israel, its history and its culture.
The five scholarships available to Pittsburgh students are being provided by “an anonymous funder,” according to Dana Gerbie Klein, AMHSI’s director of admissions.
AMHSI, which is now an arm of the Jewish National Fund, is offering similar scholarships in other communities as well, including Boston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and New York, said Klein.
While there currently are no Pittsburgh students studying at AMHSI, the program typically attracts two or three each year from the area. This will be the first year that five Pittsburghers will be offered full scholarships. To be eligible, students must be entering 10th or 11th grade and maintain a minimum-grade-point average requirement.
“We are looking for future Jewish leaders,” Klein said. “We are looking for kids who will take on the role of being JNF/AMHSI ambassadors and who will participate in future educational programming with JNF.”
The scholarships, valued at almost $10,000 each, will include full tuition and room and board, but will not include airfare to Israel.
Klein, along with Mordechai Cohen, AMHSI’s head of school, were in Pittsburgh last month to meet with stakeholders and promote the program.
With its emphasis on learning about Jewish history in the classroom, then visiting the sites where that history occurred, AMHSI “makes history come alive,” said Cohen.
“We take students to some of the most incredible sites in Israel,” he said, noting that the AMHSI is a “fully accredited high school.”
“It’s one thing to learn about history through a textbook and another thing to feel it, to experience it, to taste it and to re-create it,” Cohen said. “Living in Israel is really an incredible opportunity.”
While living in Israel, students cement their connection to the Jewish state and realize they have a “home away from home,” he added.
Universities are typically impressed by applicants who have participated in AMHSI, according to Cohen.
“Colleges love our program,” he said. “It shows that students are mature and independent. It is a great way to build a resume.”
AMHSI is pluralistic and welcomes both Jewish and non-Jewish students, although the vast majority of participants are Jewish. Since its founding, AMHSI has provided educational experiences in Israel for more than 24,000 students.
“We work with all the denominations,” said Cohen, who is Orthodox. “The campus becomes a living laboratory of Jewish life. It’s literally a mosaic of the Jewish community. That’s what we’re trying to promote.”
By living and learning abroad, high school students are challenged “socially, and physically, and academically,” he said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for personal growth, gaining a level of independence that many high schoolers don’t get to experience.”
Orli Bernstein of Highland Park, who attended the 2016 spring semester of AMHSI, agreed.
“I wanted to go away on a semester abroad and thought I’d like to get in touch with my Judaism and go to Israel,” said the CAPA senior. Bernstein, whose family “is not religious,” said being in Israel to study “helped her refocus.”
“The field trips were incredible,” she said, “and seeing the country like that was really wonderful. It was more like a discovery experience; it helped me figure out who I was, and it helped me get in touch with my Judaism.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.