Alexander Muss High School Begins to Expand

Last week, on the grounds of the Eshel Hanassi Youth Village in the northern Negev, the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) broke ground for the first of three dormitories planned for a new resident program. This marks the first stage of an ambitious multi-campus expansion of the Hod Ha’Sharon school.

The Alexander Muss High School, established in 1972 in conjunction with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, has developed into the premier program for high school students experiencing short-term Israel programs – a program that despite the current economic challenges is charging ahead. Their main campus operates at capacity during several periods of the year and early enrollment for 2010-2011 indicates a strong upward momentum in both their core program and to the shorter visits geared to day school students from around the English-speaking world. The school, which currently has almost 800 students in several programs is on target to reach between 1000-1100 in the next.

Prior to the ground-breaking I had the opportunity to sit with the forever young Stephen Muss, the principal benefactor of the various AMHSI initiatives, and a most interesting philanthropist.

Stephen, like his academic partners in this endeavor, is committed to the growth of not only AMHSI but to all short-term programs geared to a similar demographic. This led to the establishment in 2008 of Lapid, the coalition for high school age programs in Israel. In fact, as Stephen told me, the Jewish Agency’s Education Department recently made the momentous decision to bring the Lapid coalition under its wing, along with Birthright Israel and MASA. The goal of this initiative is to double the number of teenagers participating in high-school age programs [from the current 15,ooo] over the next seven years.

AMHSI itself has recently been successful in a number of ways, including extending its ‘foot-print’ to other parts of the English-speaking world. Beginning with Australia, they have increased from 12 to sixty-five the number of students in their core program in just three years.

Like all of us with a strong belief in long, and short-term, Israel programs, Stephen recognizes the value of AMHSI in creating long-term Jewish continuity. He shared with me the results of a newly prepared study of alumni which more than anything speaks of the program’s success over the years:

  • 88% have married a Jewish spouse!
  • 93% rate AMHSI as one of the three most influential Jewish educational experiences in their lives;
  • 70% between the ages of 28-49 contribute to Jewish charities;
  • 65% participate in Jewish or Zionist organizations;
  • 63% are members of a synagogue.

Stephen’s an ambitious guy; this new campus is the first of several being planned in order for AMHSI to reach 5000 students a year. He’s working hands-on with the school’s administrative and academic staffs to make this happen. Yes, it is a big goal – but for the nay-sayers out there, let me remind you that Stephen is the one that took the decaying Fountainbleau Hotel and turned it around. His plans for AMHSI, and Lapid, should be much easier to accomplish.

image: Stephen Muss with members of the AMHSI staff at groundbreaking ceremony