World ORT has launched an international program to identify, enthuse and nurture the leadership potential of a select group of Jewish teenagers.

Boys and girls aged 15 and 16 from communities in Europe and the Former Soviet Union are invited to apply on-line for the Future Leaders Program, which is supported by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the European Jewish Fund.

The six-month program blends face-to-face skills training and education, and distance learning with work in participants’ own communities, culminating in a three-week summer school in Israel. It is aimed at supporting the continuity of Diaspora communities as well as fostering an appreciation of their symbiotic relationship with the Jewish State.

The program will particularly address the needs of smaller Jewish communities.

“When regional Jewish populations fall below a ‘critical mass’ it naturally becomes more difficult to provide an adequate communal, social, educational and religious infrastructure that can ensure community cohesion and sustainability,” said the Head of Jewish Education at World ORT, Judah Harstein.

“At present, many communities identify a leadership gap. An injection of ‘new blood’ is essential to ensure that communities achieve a dynamism that will enable them to move forward and face the many challenges to survival.

“This program will provide an international context for nurturing the next generation of leaders. It will lay the groundwork for networking and collaboration between activists in different countries, encouraging individuals to consider themselves part of a global movement for the advancement of the Jewish People and enabling them to draw on their colleagues for encouragement and support.”

Teenagers should register on-line at the program’s new website and up to 40 of the most promising candidates will be selected to attend a five-day seminar at ORT House in London.

The seminar will include lectures, workshops, and encounters with community organizations and form an introduction to a supervised, six-month-long course of on-line activities – from study modules, which can be completed independently, and lectures webcast to the group as a whole, to reflective writing and reporting and leadership and management games.

The Head of World ORT’s Education Department, Daniel Tysman, said participants would also be expected to become involved in practical activities in their own communities that enable them to use the skills and knowledge that they gain in London and to develop and apply lessons from the distance learning course.

“The importance of these ‘tikkun olam’-style projects, such as working with the elderly or in youth movements, can not be underestimated,” Mr Tysman said. “As Max Klau, the Director of Leadership Development at the citizen service organization City Year, said, such programs possess incredible potential as pipelines for developing the next generation of influential civic leaders.”

At the end of it all, the whole group will be brought to Israel for an intensive three-week summer school including Hebrew language study as well as activities to intensify their interest in their heritage and culture, develop their attachment to Israel and its citizens, and increase their understanding of the broader Jewish world.

“They will also meet kids their own age who are studying at schools supported by World ORT’s operational arm in Israel, Kadima Mada,” said World ORT Education Development Manager Daniel Needlestone. “It will be an opportunity for all the teenagers to develop a mutual understanding of each others’ lives and aspirations.”

The application deadline is January 4, 2011. For more information and to complete the application form, check the program website.