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Participants of the 2018

Participants of the 2018 European Leadership Seminar in Munich. Enduring Loss, Embracing Leadership At the IDFWO European Leadership Seminar, orphaned teens develop a sense of self and discover the power of their inner strength • BY DAVID BRUMMER Most transformative life events don’t begin at a Starbucks, but that’s exactly how a group of IDF orphans began their path to leadership. These young adults, who each lost a father who served in Israel’s defence establishment, met outside of this Munich coffeehouse as their first stop in a journey teaching them lessons of leadership, independence and self-discovery. The group took part in the IDFWO European Leadership Seminar, which enables 16 to 18-year-old Israelis to travel to Europe for a 10-day trip, where they learn about historical sights and figures – both Jewish and universal. The seminar is held in conjunction with the Janusz Korczak Academy, a Jewish educational institution named in honour of the pioneer of children’s rights, a figure famous for refusing to abandon his young charges as they were led to their murder in Treblinka in 1942. The most recent European Leadership Seminar travelled to Munich, where participants met leaders, including the President of Munich’s Jewish community, a well-respected local figure. He explained how a balance is needed between remembering some of European Jewry’s darkest days and how to preserve a thriving Jewish life in these places today – and how to tackle the inevitable challenges. “The seminar gave us enough space to be ourselves, but at the same time it provided us an opportunity to be welcomed and included in a safe environment where we could tell our stories,” Ziv Koch’va Meetings such as this and with others like the Consul-General of Israel, provided a wonderful learning opportunity to enrich the participants and provide them the chance to acquire the tools to help them fulfil leadership roles wherever they go. For Ziv Koch’va, a 17-year-old participant, whose father Ran Yoshua Koch’va was killed during the Second Lebanon War when she was just five, the experience of being in Germany was a liberating and empowering one. While Koch’va found the 10-day separation from family and friends emotionally demanding, she was thankful for being able to reinforce her sense of independence, inner strength and resolve. Although the Israeli teens would meet at the Janusz Korczak Academy, much of their time was spent with children who have been helped by Nicolaidis Stiftung, which was set up in 1998 to give support to German children who have experienced the painful loss of a parent. The Israeli teenagers found that this shared experience, albeit in different circumstances, created a bridge for learning from each other’s perspectives. “The seminar gave us enough space to be ourselves, but at the same time it provided us an opportunity to be welcomed and included in a safe environment where we could tell our stories – and feel unity as 14 IDFWO MARCH 2018

Ziv Koch’va enjoys the snow while in Munich. a group and unity of purpose,” Koch’va said. As such, the seminar allows for finding common ground between teenagers from different backgrounds – with a foreign culture and language, whose initial points of reference are due to the loss they have suffered. Giving them a sense of legitimacy to feel their emotions and to facilitate their ability to grow with them is key and something that Koch’va found enriching. “There was one German boy who had lost his father at a young age,” said Koch’va, “and we spoke for a long time about our thoughts and feelings – and it helped to create understanding and friendship.” This ability to share, to understand others’ pain and to also be understood is one of the pillars of the seminar. “They are given an opportunity to interact with youth like them and give them another perspective of global grief,” said Shlomi Nahumson, director of Youth Programmes. “It can be something that is measured in cultural terms, but can also be viewed in global terms. There is something very human and comforting to know that there are others sharing very similar feelings and emotions to what another person in Israel feels as a result of loss,” he added. Shahar Shefer, another 17-year-old participant in the seminar, lost his father, Avior Shefer, a Major in the Air Force who worked as a helicopter navigator. Avior was only 36 when he died in 2009, leaving a wife and three children, including nine-year-old Shahar. Shefer has participated in the fourtimes-a-year Otzma camps from the time he was in seventh grade. He also took part in the Bar and Bat Mitzvah trip to North America. As he approaches matriculation from high school, he makes a point of joining in IDFWO programmes as much as he can; as he feels that as a confident and erudite teenager, he has so much to offer both his peers and those younger than him, whom he would like to help guide as they go through a process of grieving and adaptation that he has already experienced. Like Koch’va, Shefer formed an effortless common bond with his host family. “Despite what happened to my father, I am excited to be able to serve my country,” Shahar Shefer “It wasn’t difficult to interact with them – from our side and from their side, people arrived with good intentions and goodwill to make connections. We found that we weren’t so different from each other.” Given the intimate proximity the teens had with their German counterparts, talking about sensitive topics was inevitable. For the Israeli teens in particular, it was an opportunity to answer queries about their national rites of passage. According to Shahar, one of the German girls was skeptical about Israeli teens going to perform military service. “I tried to explain to her about all the positive things about the army. I told her how it helps to unite us – and how despite what happened to my father, I am excited to be able to serve my country.” Programmes like the European Leadership Seminar facilitate the development of a greater sense of self-reliance and the encouragement to feel an ever-increasing sense of accomplishment. Every day, the participants are emboldened to push beyond the comfort zone of their natural territories. For example, students found themselves needing to take public transport on their own from their host families to the center of Munich and work in pairs to guide other members of the group at different sites, such as at the memorial to the victims of the infamous terrorist attack against the Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972. At each stage of the trip, potential leadership skills are worked into the programme so that each of them can test their strength and with constant support exceed what they think they are capable of and more than fulfil their potential. The seminar is designed to instill the idea that their potential for accomplishment as adults is limitless, and the devastating event that occurred in their childhood should not hold them back from realising their dreams as adults. “I learned that even though things might not turn out as I expected there can be positive elements in something – if you can adapt yourself,” said Shefer. It is valuable because it allows Israeli teens (and their German and American counterparts) to benefit from the opportunity to meet, talk, and live with each other – and gain strength from their shared experiences – in particular, uniting in the common language of grief. Nothing can replace the loss of their fathers, but the IDFWO together with the Janusz Korczak Academy helps these young adults to imagine and dream, and at the same time provides them with unforgettable memories and leadership lessons, while still allowing them to be teenagers. Shahar Shefer participates in a run as a member of the IDFWO Otzma camp during Succot 2017. All photos provided by the IDFWO. IDFWO MARCH 2018 15