!Legal Leadership –> Youth for Justice

Youth for Justice is a program for at-risk Ethiopian Israeli young people, ages 14-18, both those who are in school and those who have dropped out. The program involves a group of between 10-20 participants who work with two counselors, who are either lawyers or law students, and at least one of whom is always Ethiopian Israeli. The groups meet over a period of several months to learn about what it means to be a citizen, in terms of both rights and responsibilities.

The program acquaints Israeli high school students with the fundamentals of democracy, the Israeli legal system, and the importance of social justice. The curriculum encourages students to closely examine their rights and obligations as Israeli citizens, and in 16 interactive lessons, covers topics such as “What is the Law?,” “Human Rights,” “Rights of Women” and more.

The counselors of the program are either law students or attorneys and they, too, benefit from the program; in addition to a small stipend, they often have their first opportunity to put their studies into action, explaining how the law works and seeing its impact outside the classroom.

The culmination of the program is a mock trial which is followed by a trip to the Knesset and Supreme Court, and a closing ceremony where the participants receive a certificate of completion. It is hard to overstate the impact of participating in a program like this for participants. For nearly all of them, it is the first time in their lives that they have received a certificate of any sort and the sense of validation they gain is tremendous. The certificate tells them that they have accomplished something worth recognizing, and provides a feeling of legitimacy in what can be a deeply harsh and difficult world, especially for young people who may have trouble in, or have dropped out of, school.

Success story: One of the most touching stories of the program was a young man who came to the first session where he was introduced to the counselors, who were Ethiopian. They announced that they were lawyers and he did not believe them. “But you’re Ethiopian—there are no Ethiopian lawyers!” he exclaimed. By the end of the program, he decided that he wanted to become a lawyer himself.

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