Out of 4,000 Academy alumni of all ages, nearly all of them carry a lesson or memory from their time in high school that stays with them to this day. Many alumni attribute some aspect of their interest in their careers to a teacher or class in high school. But rare is the alum who is able to return to their alma mater as part of their career. We were privileged to have alum Lori (Buckman) Gerson (’88) return to ICJA in November as part of her work with Yad Vashem.

Lori, who made aliyah 12 years ago and lives in Chashmonaim, Israel, has worked at Yad Vashem for four years as an educational coordinator. Last year she moved to the International Seminars Department, under the New Jewish World program where she focuses on working with schools and synagogues in order to build relationships through education around the world.

Lori made aliyah with her husband, Seth, who is also from the class of 1988. She says that about 30 percent of her high school graduating class made aliyah. “If you look at where I am now one could say ICJA fostered my love of Israel and learning.”

She is able to bring her passion for learning and Israel to ICJA today as our school joins a new initiative of the center to train high school students as interns. Chicago is the pilot city for the program, where approximately 80 sophomores from public schools and day schools were trained on forming relationships with Holocaust survivors in order to capture their entire life stories. The students are learning not only about their experience during the war but also about how they moved on after the war. The goal of the program is “To create meaningful and lasting inter-generational relationships between Jewish students and our community’s survivors that will allow our students and future generations to learn from, be inspired by, and be challenged by Jewish people who not only survived hell on earth, but ultimately thrived and went on to lead meaningful and productive lives that are defined by their simchat hachaim, as well as by their Holocaust experiences.”

Lori says one of our ICJA students asked a survivor during the training, “How did you decide what to do with your life after what you went through?” This, says Lori, captures the essence of the program’s goals. “This validated for all of us that the program is providing the students with the correct thought process and forward thinking we want from this program.”

Lori and her group spent three days in Chicago working with survivors who volunteered to participate in the program and then three days working with the students in the high schools. Students were then paired off with the survivors they are working with, where they met under supervised sessions.

For one year, 70 students from Jewish day schools and the survivors will meet once a month to build a relationship. The students will produce something like a blog, poem, essay or photo journal after each meeting.

Sophomore Max Miller says, “We met and discussed how we should approach the survivors, what types of questions we should ask, and how to approach the topic as a whole.” On Monday, they met the survivors they would be working with, who seemed very kind and grateful that the students wanted to hear their stories. Max says, “The survivor my group met with kept telling us that we could ask any question. This helped my group feel more comfortable and gave us the knowledge that this was going to be a very meaningful and an important internship. Overall, I am extremely excited to see how this internship grows and what I will learn from it.”

ICJA interns are Sarah Shiner, Jacob Miller, Jack Singer, Joey Greenberg, Noah Roffe,

Bayli Alter, Max Miller, Tova Kahan, Zach Fagan, Liat Mott, Ori Bauman and Kiki Robinson.

The students will be blogging about the knowledge they gain here.