CANADIAN JEWISH TEENAGER OBSERVES THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT IN ACTION ON AN NCSY PROGRAM
What’s a Canadian teenager doing observing the American government in action? Adira Winegust, 17, of Thornhill, Ontario, one of five of this year’s Senator Joseph Lieberman Scholars, a program of NCSY, is in the United States on a mission. She wants to offer her unique, Canadian viewpoint on the American political system as well as inform her fellow Canadians about how the system works.
Adira is currently a senior at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto-Richmond Hill Campus. Senator Lieberman, of Connecticut, was just re-elected for his fourth six-year term in the United States Senate.
Young and bright, and self-described as a “political animal,” Adira is a forceful personality, full of ideas and the willingness to contribute to society at large. “She comes from a family of real doers. Geographic limitations would not stop this young lady,” declared Rabbi Glenn Black, the Regional Director of NCSY-Canada, based in Thornhill, where Adira and her siblings are active members.
She was selected from a pool of many qualified applicants in their senior year of high school, from across the United States and now for the first time from Canada, who under the precept of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) are dedicated to transforming the world into a better place.
Being a Lieberman Scholar is a real honor for her. “I feel extremely lucky to have been selected to be with a group of teenagers my own age who take politics as seriously as I do. Now I will be able to go to places where ideas are exchanged and meet interesting people who are the movers and shakers in the political landscape,” said Adira.
The Lieberman Scholars program is a joint project of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) and NCSY. “We created an opportunity to cultivate the next generation of communal leaders and we introduce them to people and ideas they wouldn’t otherwise be in contact with,” declared Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, NCSY National Director of Programs.
Each Lieberman Scholar is asked to generate action-oriented political and social activities in their communities and attend educational programs and seminars. In the past, participants brought senators to their schools, conducted “get out the vote” campaigns prior to elections as well as domestic violence education seminars in their communities, among other initiatives. Scholars also regularly review their activities with a program advisor.
Currently, Adira is doing research on activities she wants to conduct in her school. She would like to inform her peers about environmental concerns or raise awareness about eating disorders. Adira is already making ribbons with her friend for March, an eating disorders awareness month.
As part of the program, along with her American counterparts Ori Kanefsky of Los Angeles; Ariela Rosenberg of San Diego; and Rita Carla Bron of Beverly Hills, Adira attended the United Jewish Communities’ General Assembly in Los Angeles in November. Jason Strauss, of Lawrence, NY, a fellow Lieberman Scholar, was unable to attend the GA.
In addition to hearing prominent speakers at the GA, during the breakout sessions she attended seminars geared toward university students, whose age group she is closest to. “Most spoke about how to deal with the rise of anti-Semitism on campus,” Adira said, and with an eye on the future, she added, “Some university campuses in Canada, such as Concordia and York, are extremely political.”
“Oh, I also learned it is very hard to hail a cab in LA,” she joked, revealing a lighter side of her personality.
Following high school, Adira intends to study at Midreshet Ein Hanatziv in Israel and then pursue a university degree in Canada, either at the University of Toronto in life sciences or at McGill University in Montreal, in arts and sciences.
In February, the Lieberman Scholars will attend the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) policy plenum, and in the spring the OU’s Annual Mission, both held in Washington, DC.
An added benefit of being a Lieberman Scholar is special consideration for participation in IPA’s Washington Internship Program during the summer, which allows qualified students to intern in political offices in the capital.
The Lieberman Scholars program is a great opportunity for Adira to observe the role of United States Senate. “The current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, of Canada proposed to move away from the appointed senatorial system to an elected senatorial system, which is how it is in the United States,” said Adira, adding that now she will be able to bring some lessons home with her.
“I feel that by witnessing first-hand what the American Senate does, I will be able to weigh out the similarities and differences, and thus would be able to have a distinct opinion about the matter,” she said. Adira intends to share her opinions in discussions with her peers.
At Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, Adira’s involvement spans many borders. With her enthusiasm and energy, she was able to publicize a rally for Darfur; to be captain of the school’s provincial Reach for the Top trivia team; a Model UN delegate; and to be the head of the Religious Affairs Committee. In addition, she used her creativity in school plays as a set designer and as a stage crew member. Multi-talented, she performed in a talent show and sang in a choir.
“What I liked about her application is that she had a fresh perspective,” said Rabbi Abramowitz. “We’re glad she is on our team.”