By supporting Israel through a career in public policy, Allison Kashan of Edison hopes to change the world for the better. And the 17-year-old junior at John P. Stevens High School in Edison is off to a good start.
Thanks to her academic achievements and numerous activities in both the Jewish and general communities, Allison is one of two winners of the national 2018 Leaders of Tomorrow Award from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. With the honor comes an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel to participate in Young Judaea’s annual summer Machon program. The other winner is Jereme Weiner of Atlanta, and the runner up, who will receive $1,000 to put toward the Young Judaea Israel trip, is Melanie S. Silver of Deerfield, Ill.
The month-long program begins July 1 and exposes participants — all of them high school juniors and seniors — to Israel’s land, history, and culture, and provides recreational and social experiences, plus opportunities for tikkun olam (repairing the world).
“This program is very educational; it’s not just for fun,” said Allison in a phone interview with NJJN. “I’ve heard others who have come back and said it was the best experience of their life.
“I feel really blessed to have the opportunity to do it.”
Barbara Spack, Hadassah’s national Young Judaea chair, said Allison was chosen because of her dedication to Hadassah’s values and mission and her “exceptional” leadership skills.
Although Allison impressed the entire selection committee, Spack knows of the teen’s accomplishments firsthand since she is also from Edison and, like Allison’s family, is a member of Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen.
All the girls who applied “were doing wonderful things,” Spack told NJJN, “leading clubs at their high schools, volunteering for organizations in their communities, doing good things for Israel and the Jewish community to prove their leadership skills. This was not an easy decision to make.”
Spack added that her hope is that as the girls who applied mature in age, “they will remember what Hadassah does for the community and Israel” and will choose to join the organization.
Allison, the daughter of Scott and Susan Kashan and the product of a three-generation life-member Hadassah family, attended religious school and became a bat mitzvah at Neve Shalom. She was confirmed last year, is enrolled at the congregation’s Hebrew high school, and is a member of its United Synagogue Youth chapter.
She is also employed as a religious school madrichah, or guide, tutoring and mentoring young students who face challenges. “I help kids who are struggling to pay attention or who might have some learning issues,” she said. “I might just sit next to them in class to keep them on track.”
She has served for two years as Ofarim/Tsofim programmer for New Jersey Young Judaea, planning events for youngsters in grades two to seven. Under her guidance, Young Judaea sponsored such events as a chocolate seder at JCC MetroWest in West Orange and a Chanukah party at a northern N.J. synagogue where teens helped teach youngsters about the holiday.
Along those lines, Allison also serves as a Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital school safety adviser through her high school, teaching first- and second-graders in Edison elementary schools about how to keep themselves safe. “We came up with a skit that teaches children safety measures, like remembering to keep their shoes tied or not running down the stairs without holding the railing,” Allison said.
She also heads her high school’s Girl Up team, which raises funds for a United Nations Foundation endeavor to support girls in developing nations through education and empowerment.
Her club, said Allison, helps girls in Liberia “who are not educated and are not going to be educated,” informing them of their rights and economic opportunities so they will resist being forced into marriages at an early age. “They realize they can become business owners and can support themselves,” said Allison.
A member of the National Honor Society, Allison is both stage manager and president of the theater company at J.P. Stevens, working backstage at all theatrical productions. In addition to her school and Jewish activities, the committed teen also volunteers at local nursing homes and soup kitchens through the Girl Scouts.
Allison’s connection to Young Judaea, a leading Zionist youth movement, goes back years. A veteran of Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake for smaller children, and Tel Yehuda, its leadership camp for high school-age teens, she said it was a logical progression to participate in the Machon summer program to further expand her leadership skills and experience different aspects of Israel.
“I want to go into politics, and Israel would be one of the concerns I want to support,” said Allison, whose visit this summer will be her first to the country. “I think through public policy, maybe going into the law, I can help change the world.”