The members of Cohort 5 of the Melbourne Diller Teen Fellows leadership program officially graduated from the program last Sunday evening, albeit in a different way than in previous years.
The group, which consisted of 18 graduates from 6 different schools have faced a lot of challenges in order to get to this milestone graduation, which took place this year on Zoom due to the stage 3 lockdown orders that were in place at the time in Victoria.
The Diller Teen Fellows program is an international program for Jewish teenagers which the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) is proud to have brought to Australia and has been running for the past five years. Partnered with a group from the Golan region, approximately 20 fellows from year 10 and 11 undertake a year of leadership development including regular workshops and residential Shabbatonim. One of the key elements of the program is when the fellows host their partner group in the Jewish community “mifgash” week, and an international summer seminar, which sees similar partnered groups from the Jewish diaspora and communities in Israel joining together for three weeks in Israel.
Sadly, due to the COVID-19 crisis, both the trip to Australia for their Golan counterparts which traditionally takes place in April, and the trip to Israel which takes place in July, had to be cancelled, making this year truly a year like no other for the Diller Teens.
While the cancellation of both big moments in the Diller Teens calendar was incredibly disappointing, the fellows quickly adapted to online “zoomgashim” as they dubbed them, and also found ways to connect with fellows in Johannesburg, London, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto and the Golan Heights. Fellows felt a sense of belonging to a wider Jewish circle, expanding their exposure to Jewish Peoplehood.
Fellows had the opportunity to utilise Zoom as a learning platform and practice their leadership skills with fellow-led online sessions. In small groups fellows ran sessions on areas of interest to them that seemed to reflect the realities of the current world around us. Issues brought up were fast fashion, systemic racism, personal responsibility, stereotypes and tools to help with transitioning.
The Helen Diller Family Foundation focused on philanthropy as a final project for this cohort, supporting the cohorts in making a significant impact even while in lock-down. Fellows researched and presented NFP organisations which they thought would benefit from a modest but meaningful grant provided by Diller International. These organisations aligned with a set of Jewish values that the group deemed paramount: , love the stranger, save a life, pursue peace and repair the world.
While this certainly was not the year they signed up for, they showed enthusiasm, heart and support for each other throughout the year, and they have shown themselves to be thoughtful leaders who will no doubt contribute to the Jewish and wider community in many areas.
Diller Teen Fellows Melbourne co-ordinator Shlomit Weidenfeld said, “The Fellows this year have been on an entirely unique journey and as a result have matured, gained confidence and built honest relationships with one another. This is not the end, but the start of a lifetime of commitments to themselves and their community, I look forward to seeing their contribution to the world.’
One of the fellows, Eden Gelfand, paid tribute to Shlomit, saying “I am forever grateful for what you have taught me, I know that I will be carrying all of the leadership skills with me for the rest of my life. After Diller, I feel more confident to lead, and I feel much more prepared for other elements of my life such as coaching basketball, and aspirations to study medicine at university.”
Another fellow, Romi Amar added, “thank you to the ZFA for seeing the potential we have as teenagers”.
Eliav Roth reflected on the entire year, saying, “As a cohort, we explored the four pillars of the program, Leadership, Jewish Identity, Tikkun Olam, Community Service, and Israel, all of which we have accomplished successfully. Along with that, we learned about how to turn a mere one-sided conversation into a proper dialogue, and most important of all, we learned about each other. For example, even though many of us come from different communities we all highly value the same morals and ethics.”
At the graduation ceremony, President of the ZFA Jeremy Leibler told the fellows that “the only way to have a meaningful and impactful experience is by being true to who you really are”, which is something the Diller Teens really had the opportunity to explore when faced with the many challenges that 2020 brought.
Leibler continued “Diller is the beginning, not the end of a process of self-discovery to work out who you are and your own place in the story of the Jewish people. Each of you have a place in that story. Each of you can be effective leaders of the Jewish people in your own way, channeling your own personality, your own background, heritage to have a meaningful impact”.
Leibler’s parting message to the Fellows summed it up perfectly, “Life will throw you curveballs, send you on different paths, but you can adjust and get to the endpoint and achieve your objectives. All of you can achieve greatness in your own way and I’m sure that you will.”
Recruitment is now underway for cohort 6. If you would like more information, please contact Diller coordinator Shlomit Weidenfeld on 9272 5618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.