Fostering Leadership in Law
Law students integrate into citizenship studies and deepen knowledge of Judaism and democracy
In November 2021, Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law opened its fifth cycle of the High School Program for Leadership in Law. The program seeks to expose university law students, along with high school pupils, to different communities in Israeli society. All this, in an effort to bridge the widening gaps in Israeli society in matters of law, Judaism and democracy; and strengthen and deepen knowledge in order to address the dual “Jewish and Democratic” identity of the State of Israel.
The program addresses two main challenges. The first is the need to enrich the academic curriculum in law, to broaden it and connect the studies with the challenges of Israeli society. Many of the law students will in the future assume key positions and lead the Israeli legal field forward. During their studies, they acquire a great deal of knowledge, form human connections and develop their value system. A meaningful encounter with the diverse communities comprising Israeli society and dealing with challenges related to the identity of the State of Israel constitute another level on top of their regular study framework.
The second challenge is the need to enrich high school citizenship studies in the same way and to provide students with tools for knowledge-based dialogue that is inclusive and respectful on issues of religion and state. Citizenship studies are often a missed opportunity to strengthen ties between different communities in Israeli society. Because the Israeli educational system is divided into different streams, citizenship studies, as a rule, take place without encounters with different populations that will challenge the thought processes on issues that arise from the study materials. This reality creates a resonating effect in which students mainly hear their classmates and aren’t exposed to the true complexity of Israeli society.
The High School Program for Leadership in Law addresses both challenges, by integrating university law students as counsellors for high school students in meeting-based learning activity, as part of citizenship studies. The program works in cooperation with Bar-Ilan University’s Menomadin Center for Jewish and Democratic Law and the “Israeli Congress” and aims to create a meaningful learning experience, combining joint study of source materials, lectures by key figures in Israeli society and a meeting and discussion led by outstanding law students. This program trains future generations of leaders and youth leadership, both among the law students serving as counsellors, as well as among the high school participants, and provides tools for enriching knowledge and social diversity in the State of Israel.
The program’s academic infrastructure meshes with the social aspects in order to deepen the learning process and make it more interesting. The encounter between students from different educational settings, who belong to different communities in Israeli society, creates an enriching experience and takes the students on both an intellectual and social journey, so that they become active partners in the learning process. The students gain an experiential and active acquaintance with their friends from other streams, develop a culture of discussion and acquire academic and legal understanding, along with tools for mediation and conflict resolution, in order to strengthen the fabric of ties between different communities in Israeli society.
The meetings, which are held in the Bar-Ilan University framework, include mixed group study of sources relating to identity, religion and gender; a lecture in the plenum, followed by discussion and group-oriented discourse. The third part of each session forms the basis for performing citizenship tasks, and was designed in coordination with high school citizenship teachers and the Supervisor of Citizenship at the Israel Ministry of Education. At the end of the series of meetings, an evening is held when the program is reviewed and students receive certificates of participation.
The program has won an award from the Israeli Hope in Academia initiative, which was founded by former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and has been growing each year. Currently, the program is attended by 23 Bar-Ilan law students and 296 students from four high schools: Amit Bar-Ilan Gush Dan, the new Yitzhak Rabin High School, the ORT Shalhevet Shoham, and the Bnei Akiva Ulpana Tzfira.
The Menomadin Center for Jewish and Democratic Law seeks to address the tension and challenges arising from Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, with the aim of producing a common inclusive discourse. The center is a partner in the “Israeli Congress”, which works to create a broad public process of forging agreements through national and local councils. Together, the center and the congress create an environment for study of Jewish and Israeli sources, in order to rethink the image of the State of Israel, while striving for a common, equitable and democratic existence. The High School Program for Leadership in Law is based on the center’s methodologies, which combines academic research with diverse social discourse. The center makes it possible to provide schools and students with a learning environment where they may encounter students from diverse Israeli communities.