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Updated: Mar 5, 2020

Three Eras of HHA Grads Team Up in the Austrian Alps to Strengthen European Jewry

By Goldie Weiser

As CEO of the Lauder Foundation, Rabbi Josh Spinner is a key player on the stage of World Jewry overseeing a portfolio that includes all of Eastern Europe and beyond. He is also a graduate of the Hamilton Hebrew Academy, Class of ‘84. When he received the 2015 HHA Legacy Award, Rabbi Spinner described how Hamilton, and the HHA, serve as a blueprint for him as he helps chart the priorities of communities across Europe.

What is equally remarkable is that two additional HHA graduates, from different eras, joined Rabbi Spinner in the Austrian Alps at a program aimed at strengthening Jewish identity among young European Jews.

Rabbi Eli Zians, HHA Class of ‘00, is the Director of the Jewish Overseas Leadership Training (JOLT) program. JOLT is an intense leadership program designed for truly exceptional high school teens. Past participants have described the JOLT experience as having a truly transformational impact on their identity as Jews and leaders of the Jewish people. The program begins in Poland, connecting participants to their past. Participants learn about a vibrant Jewish world that was and they reflect on the enormity of what was lost in the Holocaust. They recognize how miraculous their existence truly is and their unique responsibility as Jewish leaders of tomorrow.

From Poland, they travel to present day Austria, where they partner with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, to create a camp for disconnected European Jewish youth. Their mission: Instill in their campers an understanding and love for being a Jew. From Austria they fly to Israel, where they tour our breathtaking country, reflect on their experiences in Poland and Austria, hone in on the leadership skills they learned and identify how they can help make a difference to the Jewish world at large.

While most high school students spend their well-deserved summer break relaxing and recharging for the rigours of their upcoming academic year, Shimmie Green, Class of ‘16, opted to join JOLT. The result was a teaming of HHA graduates, spanning four decades, partnering together in the Austrian Alps and perpetuating Jewish life across the globe.

The vision of the Hamilton Hebrew Academy, is to foster graduates, who not only excel academically, socially and emotionally, but who feel a deep commitment to the broader Jewish community. In describing his JOLT experience, Shimmie Green commented, “It really embodies the essence of what it means to be a Jew. It's not all about yourself, you are part of a bigger picture. It's each individual's obligation to care about others well being on a personal level. When people truly care, greatness occurs, on both a micro and macro scale. It’s really amazing.”

There is no greater testimony to the success of a school than to see graduates who have taken their place as the planters and builders of a Jewish tomorrow.

For more information about the JOLT summer experience visit


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