Maale Adumim — With music blasting, 50 New York-area teens from Write On For Israel, The Jewish Week’s two-year advocacy program for high school students, danced up the streets of this West Bank community last Sunday with a Sefer Torah they brought from the United States. The Torah was donated to a local synagogue in memory of one of its young members, fallen IDF soldier Erez Deri.
The dedication of the Torah was the fulfillment of a promise made to Deri’s parents following a chance meeting at Mount Herzl last year. During their visit to Israel’s military cemetery, the Write On Class of 2012 met Pnina and Gidon Deri as they stood at the grave of their son, who was killed in 2006 following an operation in Jenin. When the Deris said their dream was to dedicate a Sefer Torah to their synagogue in memory of Erez, who was 20 when he was killed, the Write On students made a pledge to raise the money and fulfill the bereaved parents’ wish. The students raised more than $17,000, mostly from appeals to family and community members.
“We started as strangers and returned as extended members of the Deri family,” said Daniella Greenbaum, now a high school senior and a leader of the fundraising effort who was one of two members of the Write On Class of 2012 to join the Write On Class of 2013 for the trip to Israel. “It was beyond exciting to see the joy that we brought to these parents and to affirm the idea that we are all members of Am Yisrael, responsible for one another.”
Tzvi Wiesel, the other member of the Class of 2012 on the trip, noted that, “The Sefer Torah is a symbol of life. The Deri family lost their son but in dedicating a Sefer Torah with his name on the cover, he is ever present in their synagogue and in the life of this community.”
The dedication ceremony was the culmination of this year’s weeklong Write On trip to Israel, where students met with leading journalists, army officers, analysts and Israeli diplomats to gain a better understanding of the conflict and security issues. The 50 students, all bound for universities in the United States, are being trained for leadership positions in the pro-Israel movements on campus. Through lectures on Israel’s history — ancient and current — and meetings with experts and activists both in the U.S. and Israel, Write On students are trained to defend Israel at college, and beyond, and to take an active role in making Israel’s case.
Now in its 10th year, Write On for Israel is funded by the Avi Chai Foundation. The program has trained more than 400 Jewish high school students from public, private and Jewish day schools, many of whom have become writers of opinion pieces and leaders in pro-Israel movements on campus.
Linda Scherzer, a former Mideast correspondent for CNN and Israel Television, is program director for Write On For Israel in New York. Rabbi Yotav Eliach is the core educator and Israel guide for the program.